The Very Old and the Very Young

Mama introduced me to the idea of a special relationship between the very old and the very young when she read aloud a poem called “One, Two, Three” by Henry Cuyler Bunner. The poem begins:
    “It was an old, old, old, old lady,
    And a boy who was half-past three;
    And the way they played together
    Was beautiful to see.”
You can tell from the number of “olds” that she couldn’t go running and jumping, but neither could the “thin little fellow with a thin and twisted knee.” So they played imaginary hide-and-seek though “they never stirred from their places right under the maple tree.”

Tomie de Paola has two beautiful stories about this kind of relationship. The first is in my well-worn copy of Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, autographed to my second grade class – “The Beautiful Butler Bunch.” It portrays his relationships with his grandmother and great-grandmother, but the focus is on the great-grandmother, Nana Upstairs. She points out the fresh “little person” in the feathered red hat over behind the brush and comb. Only she and Tommy have the ability to see the little man. [When I heard him speak, he admitted the little boy was him. He changed to spelling so nobody would recognize him. Ha!]

In Now One Foot, Now the Other, Tomie tells the story of Grandfather Bob who builds block towers with Bobby, tells him stories, and teaches him to walk. Then he reverses the story after Grandfather Bob has a stroke as Bobby builds towers for his grandfather, tells him stories, and teaches him to walk – “Now one foot, now the other.”

Part of the wear and tear on Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs came from our second grade love of the book and frequent readings. Since my students were at an age to lose grandparents or great-grandparents, I sent it home frequently for parents to read aloud and talk with their children in a positive gentle manner about death’s separation between people who have a unique relationship.

When I was very young, I had two great-grandmothers and one grandfather. I hope you have a similar memory. And if you admit to being very old, I hope you have a very young person in your life.