“Questions for a Nana,” Oct. 1, 2018

What do your children and grandchildren know about your childhood and what your life was like before they were born? If you don’t tell them, who will?

Recently I had a note from my 8-year-old grandson that lit me up brighter than the candles on my last cake. I’m hoping it will inspire you to share your history with someone you love.

“Dear Nana,” Randy wrote, “I’m learning about ancestors in my second-grade class. We are curious about what life was like long ago. I have some questions for you. What did you play with? Was there electricity? Who was your teacher? Please write back! Love, Randy.”

The note also included a few questions from his teacher. Here, more or less, is my reply:

Dear Randy,

You are wise to want to learn about your ancestors. There’s so much to be learned from them! I’ll begin with your questions, then answer your teacher’s.

What did I play with? When I was your age, I spent most days (if I wasn’t in school and it wasn’t raining or freezing cold!) climbing trees in the orchard, chasing cows in the pasture or catching tadpoles in the creek. I also loved playing games with my cousins and my brothers — tag, or hide’n’seek, jumping over barbed wire fences, or building forts in the woods. Sometimes I’d sit in an apple tree throwing apples at cows and waiting for the train to come chugging by my house. The engineer watched for me. When I waved, he’d blow the train whistle just for me.

Did we have electricity? Yes. We also had a black and white TV with three channels. But we had no computers or cell phones or iPads or video games or electronic toys of any kind. Some people didn’t have an indoor bathroom. They bathed in tin washtubs in water they heated on a stove. A few still used an “outhouse” (like a port-a-john) that sat behind their house. When they needed to use the bathroom, they’d walk down a path to a wooden shed that had a seat inside, but no toilet, just a hole that dropped down into a pit! It was disgusting and creepy, especially in the dark!

Who was my teacher? You’re in second grade, so I’ll tell you about my second-grade teacher. Mrs. Harrison was a kind and gracious lady, very patient with all of us, even with the boys who were always squirming like they had fire ants in their pants. I loved being in her class. She made me feel smart and happy and good. And she made school a fine and safe place to learn.

OK, Randy, now for the other questions: My name is Sharon, but I liked to be called “Mom” and “Nana.” I’m pretty old, but still working (as a newspaper columnist.) I still have most of my teeth. I grew up in the mountains of North and South Carolina, and raised your dad and your aunt and uncle on the coast of California, a few blocks from where you live now.

The biggest difference between now and when I grew up is that life back then seemed simpler and slower, especially for a child. We spent less time with electronics and more time watching clouds and chasing lizards and catching lightning bugs and making magic.
It was a good time to grow up. And it’s a great time for you to grow up now. You and your friends will see and learn and make more magic than my friends and I dreamed possible.

Do I have any advice for you and your classmates? I’m so glad you asked! Be as kind as you can be. Learn as much as you can learn. Have as much fun as you possibly can. Never stop asking questions. Remember that you are smart and you are good and you are loved. Be especially nice to your teacher.

Finally, spend time with the people who love you, especially your nana, who was your age once long ago and likes to think, on her best days, she still is.

Love, your Nana


  1. cynthia giel says

    When my grandkids from Ohio stay over, they always want me to tell them a goodnight story. They don’t want one read to them, they want me to tell them things that happened when I was young. I’m glad I can usually come up with a funny or interesting memory for them. Never gave much thought to how important these stories are. But, I do remember asking my mother when I was little and heading to bed, to tell us ( my brother and I ) about when she was a little girl. It must be in our genes!

  2. Carolyn Lichti says

    I just returned from helping to host a Road Scholar week where the participants were learning how to trace their family tree AND given tools to tell their own story! If we don’t tell our story, it will die with us and our grandchildren won’t know what life was like when we grew up. Thanks for your timely reminder and great example.

  3. Tim Wagner says

    I had a similar situation when an east coast cousin told me that her 8 year old granddaughter informed her that she was learning about the Civil War and wanted to know if we had any family members who fought in that war. Being the family historian, I told the granddaughter that we did indeed have three family members who fought for the South. All three were wounded and one of them died of his wounds. I was able to send her a letter from the wife of one of the soldiers telling what life was like behind “enemy” lines when the Union troops had recaptured their Arkansas town. The grand daughter read the letter to her classmates and was the hero of the day. It is so important to pass our history on to the next generations!

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    What an excellent idea! I think just telling the grands that my older sibs always made me get up to change the channel will give them a laugh! “What???? You had to go to the tv to change the channel?? HOW did you do that grandma???”

    Looking forward to a column on the glorious wedding day 🙂

  5. Linda Hill says

    After my mother died, I realized that there was so much left to say to her and a lot of things that we needed to hear from her. In light of that I started a blog just for my kids, but they shared it with others and their friends. The blog is about my life and the things that mattered to me then and now. I also threw in some “daddy” lessons for good measure!
    Thanks for the reminder today that I need to continue to write!

  6. Cathy Christopher Johnson says

    Sharon, I loved your comments to your grandson. Growing up in Landrum, I too had many of the same experiences. It wasn’t until I left Landrum, that I realized What a blessing it was to grow up in a small town.

  7. Great idea! I think I’ll write up my childhood for my grands and greats. I loved it when my oldest grand, a boy, came home from kindergarten and said he had to bring something in for show and tell. He wanted to bring me, and said “Don’t worry, Grammie – you don’t have to say a thing. I’ll do all the talking”. Love that (now 32 year old) boy!

  8. Ricky W Christian says

    Always a pleasure to read you! Very thankful for the teachers that taught me to read.

  9. Dick Daniel says

    Another great one. I’m so encouraged by his teacher realizing the importance of asking these questions and getting written responses. I wish I had done this with my grandparents and parents.

  10. Absolutely perfect answers! So much love, so little time. ❤️

  11. Elaine Mccaffery says

    Sharon, this was so sweet. If only more kids would ask the important questions and want to know and learn about their family; their heritage. Sad , not many kids or grandkids care enough to even ask. Maybe, just maybe the world would be better if some things they cared enough to ask. Thanks for sharing your family.

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