Getting Outside for Grandma

from Wildlife Promise

My maternal grandmother passed away on Tuesday. She was 92—born the same day the Allies beat back German forces in the Battle of Amiens during World War I.

I had done a bad job of staying in touch with her in recent years, and I don’t have any especially good reasons for that other than work and smothering adulthood. Neither is an acceptable excuse for not visiting or picking up the phone once in a while. I should have made the time. Honestly, I became a pretty bad grandson.

I know that sounds grim. But I’m writing this under the Wildlife Promise banner because of the few conversations we did have in recent years—in fact, because of the last conversation I had with her when I visited this past weekend.

Over the years, as we drifted apart and Grandma’s cognitive sharpness faded, she started to say pretty much the same thing every time I called for a milestone birthday or other special occasion. It went something like this:

“I’ll always remember you out in the dirt, playing with the bugs.”

Almost verbatim, that was the main thing. The conversations grew shorter and shorter, to the point that that single sentence was often the only thing of substance she said other than ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye.’ Over time, it became the main thing that she remembered about me, and eventually the main thing that I remembered about my time with her.

Maybe that was by design, how she preferred to see me in her mind’s eye: not as the somewhat sullen young adult who had proven notoriously bad at sticking to routine phone calls, but as the little kid who spent a big part of every visit trying to (temporarily) capture grasshoppers and ladybugs in the lot behind her plain apartment building near Reading, PA. This memory became doubly important when she was no longer able to spend time outdoors herself. She missed that most of all.

(Grandma also had cable TV, and I’ll admit that was a pretty big draw on its own. It gave me a chance to watch documentaries about sharks and snakes whenever I visited…and I never once had to futz around with rabbit ears.)

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it’s clear now that my ‘being out there’ brought Grandma a lot of joy—at least as much as it brought me. I think she knew how important it was, even then, a bit before the ‘indoor childhood’ epoch. (Grandparents are wise like that.)

I’m glad she pictured me that way as she grew older, on my knees with nature instead of sitting in front of a computer all day. It made her happy.

In Grandma’s honor, I think I’ll look for some good bugs when it gets a little warmer outside (beaucoup stink bugs to come, I hear). I’d ask that you do the same, and encourage a kid you know to do it too. Just be sure to catch and release.

Visit our outdoor activities page for more ideas.