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Gentle Loving Kindness: Gramma Taught Me Well

By NEAL J. ROBERTS | Jan 16, 2019

Call me an imp.

The imp who grew up.

“You are an imp,” she said to the little boy.

Gramma, my mom’s mother, Hazel Redhead, descended from a Dutch immigrant who came to the Hudson Valley in 1623, was a dear woman, just the way any impressionable child might imagine a grandmother ought to be. My two brothers and I could certainly understand the difference in when Gramma was pleased with us or not, yet I can’t recall any impression of a raised voice intended to inflict shock and awe on the misbehaving juveniles with whom she shared a home. Her stroke of discipline might have been only a tender whack! with a hand or a hairbrush, resulting in nothing more than a mild startle in us – and probably our stifled giggles to follow, until we noticed Gramma was indeed cross with us about something. You know, I can’t honestly recall much of anything about her discipline, except that we did get the point when she was displeased with us.

And I got the notion that being an imp was nothing to be proud about. I was clever enough to associate the occurrence of making my little brother cry, and a sudden disharmony in the household, and being labeled an imp, as a cause and effect coincidence of which I was the cause, and the effect was ... well, I was an imp!

I don’t think I ever asked Gramma what an imp was. You see, I did get the point. An imp was something to be disdained. And I ought not to be one.

“But Warren’s being a crybaby!” I pleaded. “And he started it!”

Raised eyebrows. No sympathy.

“And he’s always telling on me for stuff that isn’t true!”

Maybe so. Maybe not. Just maybe he had been appealing to a higher authority because his rival brother was being selfish. Or mean. Or a brat. Or ...

An imp!

It’s a long time since the 1960s, since my affection for building blocks caused some to say I ought to be an architect, since my many youthful explorations on my bike or on woodland solo hikes looking for adventure (and occasionally encountering more than I wanted). Even longer since the late 1950s, when my little brother was born in April 1958 and took over preeminence in the Roberts children hierarchy – according to the new middle child (me). Surprisingly, for this guy who in grade school was termed the “human encyclopedia” and who later became, as said in the journalism profession, a wordsmith, it literally was nearly six decades before I ever sought out the actual definition of this label.

Imp – noun. a small, mischievous devil or sprite. (synonyms: hobgoblin, elf, sprite, pixie, brownie, fairy)

As I look back, I perceive this definition might better fit a colorful storybook character, one more amusing than harmful (although I do recall one famously jealous fairy colluding in a plot to poison her rival, a sweet girl named Wendy). No, those suggested synonyms didn’t apply to me. In my case, an imp was, or is ... a brat! And I was he!

I got better, as time went on. No, no, not better as an imp. Better as a person, who grew up with all the love – and respect – for my Gramma that she deserved.

A person who, even from a preschool age, did not like being an imp.

And has spent a lifetime trying not to be.

I hope, in the end, I acquit myself well.

Hazel’s family always had to wonder how old she was; that was top secret, for whatever reason. But, of course, we always celebrated her birthday on Jan. 20. The last was in 1978; my mom, Lorraine, recalls our family tree research determined the first was probably 130 years ago, 1889.

And so, I thought it fitting this month, in 2019, to give her loving remembrance once more.

Happy birthday, Gramma!

Neal J. Roberts is a copy editor at The SandPaper.

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