26: Granny’s Last Cartwheel

26: Granny’s Last Cartwheel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Granny’s Last Cartwheel

Being a family today is complicated, but it hasn’t always been this way. When I was growing up in a small town in the fifties, life — and family — were simple. Like all my friends, I lived in a house with two parents, and Mom was there every day when I came home from school, filling our home with the cozy smells of something cooking. Dad worked long hours and came home exhausted, but not too weary to watch my tricks when I performed somersaults, handstands and my favorite of them all — the cartwheel.

He would sit on the porch in the evening trying (I now understand) to have a few moments of solitude, yet he would always have a cheer for me as I performed my onewoman, amazing circus act on the soft, green lawn of our front yard. A somersault got a nod. With handstands, he helped me count the seconds I could remain upside down, legs splayed, balanced on those skinny little arms. But it was my cartwheel — my amazing, back-arched, legs-perfectly-straight, toes-pointed-to-the-sky cartwheel — that won his applause.

My grandmother was a gray-haired, elderly woman who lived halfway across the world in another country called Minnesota. She wasn’t fond of noise or noisy children. When she came on the train for a visit, I was reminded that children “should be seen and not heard.” My grandmother never saw my cartwheel.

Yes, life was simple then. Everyone knew the rules, and everyone knew their roles in that choreography we called “family.” But life changes, with twists and turns along the way. I grew into adulthood and created my own family. By midlife, I found that I was not only grandmother to my own children’s children, but to the progeny of my new husband’s children as well. Family was no longer simple.

Even the question of “What should they call me?” was complicated, because they already had the ideal number of two grandmothers. I dubbed myself “Granny Nanny” and hoped that it would take. It did.

I didn’t want to be the granny who lived on the other side of the world and didn’t like noise when she visited. I didn’t want to be the granny whose visits they feared or dreaded. I wanted to be the granny who listened and laughed and loved and played with her grandchildren. In short, I wanted to be a “cool” granny.

On one trip to our granddaughters Alison and Melissa’s home, we visited a beautiful park. It was the very same one I had often taken my own daughters to when they were children. It was here that my children and I had spent many weekends frolicking in the park. Just as I had performed for my father as a child, my children would also run, skip, jump and somersault with glee, shouting, “Watch me! Watch me, Mommy!” Then I would join in and amaze them with my perfect, back-arched, legs-straight, toes-pointed-to-the-sky cartwheel.

On this sunny summer day, Alison and Melissa were bursting with the joy of youth. They began to run and jump and amaze us all with the gymnastic feats they could accomplish. No mere somersaults or cartwheels for these two young gymnasts: they twisted and whirled with back flips, round-offs and amazing multiple cartwheels. I applauded in awe.

When they paused and walked back toward me, I couldn’t resist. I knew better — or should have — but I was caught up in the excitement of the show. “I can do an amazing perfect cartwheel,” I announced. Both girls grinned at each other as if to say, Granny — a cartwheel? “I don’t think so,” Melissa even snickered.

Of course, I accepted the challenge. The sun was bright, the sky was filled with puffy cumulus clouds and there was just a little breeze. In the distance, birds were warbling to each other. I inhaled deeply and with a drum roll playing in my head, began the running skip that introduced my cartwheel. Arms raised overhead, I catapulted heels over head, back arched, legs perfectly straight, toes pointed to the sky. I was flying! I was still amazing!

I was in pain! The centrifugal force of the circular spin of the cartwheel became too much for my middle-aged joints. With a loud Crack! my left leg, the trailing one, came out of its hip socket. As I ended my circular descent, however, with both arms raised overhead — the way you always end the show — my left leg slammed back into its socket with a dull thud. The pain! Oh the pain! But not wanting to frighten the children, I blinked back my tears.

“Wow! Granny, you really can do a cartwheel!” Alison exclaimed, and Melissa beamed at me with a newfound respect for her granny. I vaguely remember mumbling something about how we should always warm up before exercising, and that I had forgotten to do it that day.

The next morning, my husband had to help me get out of bed. Every joint in my body ached with a vengeance. Warmed-up or not, I knew that yesterday had taught me something. That was Granny’s last cartwheel.

Yes, family today is complicated, but I can still visit all my grandchildren, those related to me through blood or by marriage, and be called Granny Nanny. We can still listen and laugh and love and play together because, be it through shared DNA or shared history; that’s what family is.

One day in the park the sun was bright, the sky was filled with puffy white clouds, and I heard the birds call to each other. A soft breeze blew just enough, and for a brief moment in time I soared, back arched, legs perfectly straight, toes pointed to the sky, performing Granny’s last cartwheel for my granddaughters’ pleasure. And they absolutely knew that their granny was cool.

~Nancy Harless
Chicken Soup to Inspire the Body and Soul

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