By Lauren Klees
It was a sunny day at Walla Walla's Pioneer Park, warm enough to bring out my mother and me for yet another one of our regular visits. The warmth drew two other players who, that day, interacted in a way that would provide a crucial lesson for my life: my Grandma Joy and the duckling.
Grandma took the initiative. She picked up the small, delicate creature and carefully placed it into my 3-year-old hands. Now, 23 years later, I remember nothing of what Grandma might have said that day. But nothing has better captured for me the nurturing, care and friendship she brought into my life than that example of the duckling.
Grandma Joy taught me the value and importance found in family through her acts of kindness. I had grown up in a warm, close-knit family, and felt protected and cared for by my parents. So it was an added blessing to have a warm-hearted grandma become my childhood teacher and friend.
I was 4 when Grandma Joy taught me my first poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear.
I remember her instructing me how to memorize the 35 stanzas of this child-like poem. She fed me each line at a time, and told me to repeat after her. When I had one line memorized, she had me repeat the following stanza until I had the entire poem completed.
Besides poetry, she taught me how to sing and to pursue my gifts. She made me feel special because she recognized my talents, and it was through her gift of time that she taught me the value of family.
Whenever I visited Grandma Joy, her smile alone was enough to make me feel accepted and appreciated.
Her words of encouragement made the entire process of memorizing poetry rewarding, and I quickly became proud of my accomplishments.
I learned to be patient. I learned to finish what I had started. But above all, I learned how much my Grandma Joy loved me because she had discovered my gift of poetry and memorization, and pushed me to flourish in my talents. Because of her, I can still recite "The Owl and the Pussycat" by heart.
As she encouraged me, I knew I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to show others the same love she made known to me.
I give her credit for releasing a strength and passion to memorize other poems, and to begin writing my own poetry.
Other gifts of mine began to unfold during my childhood.
Before I began singing with Grandma Joy, I recorded songs on a cassette tape player that my parents gave me. At age 3 I became addicted to music, and whenever my Mom played "The Sound of Music" soundtrack, or Shirley Temple hits, her favorites, I immediately began to sing and dance. It felt so natural; there was something about the music that made me feel a passion and excitement I had never experienced before.
Two or three times a week Grandma Joy sat me down and taught me songs such as "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "Old McDonald Had a Farm."
She instructed me to repeat the song lyrics after her with a twinkle in her eye. Once the songs were memorized, the two of us sang in unison.
She also taught my younger sister and me how to sing in a round. "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" was the first song my sister, Grandma and I sang in a round together.
My sister and I didn't perform the song perfectly the first time, nor even on the second or third tries. Yet Grandma continued to believe we would accomplish the task, and she didn't give up on us, letting us know she was our cheerleader and biggest fan.
She demonstrated the value of family by doing simple things with me, such as feeding the ducks at Pioneer Park. A couple of times a week, she would take me to the park by placing me in the child's seat on the back of her bicycle. I remember the wind blowing in my hair and the sunshine beaming down on my face.
She ensured that our trips to the park were fun and familiar each time by making each trip consistent with the last. We always took her bicycle, brought bread to feed the ducks, and visited the caged birds. That routine of visiting the park was immeasurably enriched on that day she handed me the duckling. Now, I recall how even as a 3-year-old, I learned in a basic way that each of us is at the same time marked by great vulnerability and wondrous potential. But even more importantly, I learned my obligation to recognize vulnerability all around me, and to seek out, and nurture, potential wherever I could. Today I plan to do the same.