Illustration by David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star

My kids regularly fantasize about being adults.

No. 2 obsesses over uber-fancy houses on “When I grow up, I am going to have a house like THAT,” she said, pointing out a two-story, 10,000-square-foot California stunner listed at just under 4.5 megatrillion dollars.

No. 3 talks about being a top NBA draft pick and — awwww! — about how his dad and I will need to relocate to whatever city hires him to play basketball.

No. 1 dreams closer to reality, thinking of what elite college she will attend.

Well, I’m a grown up — and I miss being a kid.

I didn’t have to do laundry or clean bathrooms or drive people across town several times a day. Someone cooked for me, and I had three, glorious months of summer nothingness. The highlight was always a week spent at my grandparents’ Missouri farm.

I had a knack for uncovering where all the cats hid their kittens, and I collected them in baskets. I rode horses and there were a few summers when I got a jump on conditioning for track-and-field season, sprinting from the territorial red rooster that chased everyone off his turf, a huge quadrant between the pig pen and the barn.


Judging from my glasses-braces combo, I'd say this is circa 1982. From left, me, my mom and bro along with Nannie and Gramps.

My grandma was an amazing cook. She used a coffee mug to measure flour for her baking and fried the most amazing chicken, which surprisingly, never included that nasty ol’ red rooster. As far as I could tell. Although, I do remember one time opening a plastic container and discovering what looked like skinned frog legs. They were. My cousin had left them in the fridge for her to prepare.

Nannie had a soft Southern accent. Her favorite expression was “Well, bless your heart.” I remember her tight hugs and how her touch was so gentle even though her hands were rough and calloused. She had a hard life.

I’m using the past-tense because my grandmother, at 92, isn’t the same woman who’d gently scoop baby ducks and chicks out of the incubator and hand them to me to nuzzle. Her memory’s pretty much shot and she spends most of her time sitting, gazing out the window. When I call, she talks for only a few minutes and always apologizes for not sending birthday or Christmas cards to the kids.

In middle school, I had to write a paper about someone I admired. It was an audition for an advanced writing class. I chose my grandmother. My parents read it and complimented me and also told me not to share what I wrote, lest any other family members get hurt feelings. So, my grandma never knew.

Her childhood was tough and she married way too young and had four kids with a man who — as best I could piece together — was not an especially stand-up guy and probably died in prison. The man who was my grandpa was wonderful, big and boisterous and loved another’s man’s kids as his own. He became an instant father of four at 20 years old.

Five years Nannie’s junior, Gramps made quite the first impression by calling her “toots.” My upstanding, Methodist church-every-Sunday grandma was horrified. Of course they got married.

They worked full-time jobs and then went home to their small farmhouse and worked some more at what they loved most — growing corn, soybeans and hay and taking care of their animals.

My grandma had a soft giggle but she was tough. Missouri tough. She beat cancer twice, buried two sons and her husband. She was never the same after her soulmate died 10 years ago, just two days shy of their 56th wedding anniversary. Never seemed as happy.

Now, her family has to figure out the next step for her. It’s hard.

Being a grownup can be fun, but it’s also rough stuff, even harder than trying to outsmart a wily red rooster. All I can say is, bless her heart.

Contact Kristen Cook at or 573-4194. On Twitter: @kcookski. Cook thinks if you’re still lucky enough to have grandparents around, you should give ‘em a call. Or even better, a hug.