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Gerry Lidstrom

© 2000


Hattie was the wife of the richest man in town and lived in a huge, two-story, white brick house with a sprawling front porch, complete with a swing hanging from the ceiling. Her husband, Carl, was fat, always smoked a cigar, and grumbled as he rang up sales on the cash register at the feed mill and gas station which he owned. What he lacked in personality, Hattie made up for in her kindness and generosity.

Hattie was every kid’s grandmother, or acted as if she was. She was a large woman with curly gray hair. She always wore a house-dress and an apron with an attached bib. She wore the apron whether she was baking, watching TV, or picking strawberries in her garden.

She bought the first TV in town. The first TV in town was really something special. It was a console, a piece of furniture. I say “she” because we, all the kids in town, never thought of anything having to do with her as also having anything to do with her husband. It was her house, her swing, her garden, and most importantly to us, her TV. Every Saturday she would have a living room full of kids watching the morning shows: My Friend Flicka, The Cisco Kid, Sky King, and The Lone Ranger. I’m not sure how it all started. I think her real granddaughter, Lynell, probably invited one or two of us over the first time, and from there it just grew. Every Saturday we would arrive to watch our favorite shows. Even the commercials were interesting. Hattie bought us what ever was being advertised.

The TV provided many fun and exciting Saturday mornings, beginning at 9:00. She seemed to love watching the shows as much as we did and always commented on, “What do you think will happen next?” or “How will he get out of this one?” Half- way through the morning she would disappear and return with Kool-Aid and trays of chocolate chip, oatmeal, or sugar cookies. She always said, with a smile on her face, “Now, I don’t want you to spoil your appetite. If I hear you go home and don’t eat your lunch, there will be no more cookies.” Not one of us would risk the chance of that happening. We would eat our lunch whether we were hungry or not.

While we were watching TV and eating our cookies, Hattie would bring out Petey. It was a light blue parakeet which would fly around the room, landing on the drapery rods, swooping down to sit on tops of heads, or landing on someone’s outstretched finger. I was petrified of it. I hated it. I couldn’t stand to hear or see its flapping wings. I knew it would peck out my eyes.

After covering my head with my hands the first time, Hattie brought out a magazine for me to use. What was I supposed to do? Bat it away? Luckily, before I had a chance to smash Petey, Hattie opened the magazine and placed it, cone-like, on top of my head. There I sat, watching TV, with a magazine on top of my head, unafraid of Petey. Gradually, she introduced each of us to Petey. I can’t say that I ever grew to like him, but after a while I at least wasn’t afraid of him and did not need the magazine. Hattie would entertain us by feeding him bits of cookies from her own mouth. She would also wet her lips so birdseeds would stick to them and hold Petey on her finger while he pecked the seeds off her lips. I finally became brave enough to sit without a magazine on my head, but I knew I would never let that bird peck seeds off my lips. Later, that summer, we learned that Petey had flown away. Somehow he flew out an open window. All the kids in town went out looking for him, but we never found him. Hattie bought another parakeet, a green and yellow bird this time, and called it Petey 2.

Hattie had a room off the living room, a room called the piano room. It was just that, a room for a piano, a baby grand. She taught us each how to play “Chop-sticks” and “Peter, Peter, Pumkin-eater.” My sister and I begged our dad to buy us a piano just like Hattie’s.

In the piano room there were bookcases filled not with reading books, but with picture books. Books of pictures and postcards of all the places she had been to. Postcards of Mt. Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and pictures of mountains and deserts were neatly organized by sections of the country. Everyone’s favorite books were the art books. Here were paintings, the work of many famous artists. She would open a book of Monet’s paintings and ask us to come up close and take a look at it. When we did, I remember thinking it looked all smeary and blotchy, nothing really great. Then, she said, “Now, scoot on back a ways. There now, what do you see?” Suddenly, the painting leaped out! It was a garden, another was a pond full of water lilies. It seemed like magic. She took out art books by other painters: Picasso, Degas, Rembrandt, Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Michelangelo. Each book was filled with pictures, many of which I didn’t understand. But, I knew they were something special; I think we all did. We knew how special they were to her.

At noon her husband came home for lunch. We always left before he arrived.

Eventually, each of our parents bought a TV and our Saturday mornings with Hattie were over. Each one of us would occasionally stop by in the next year for a visit, and some Kool-Aid and cookies. We told her more than we told our parents about what was going on in school. But those Saturday mornings when we all gathered together to watch TV, with Petey or Petey 2 flying around the room, when we played our songs in the piano room, when we opened those wonderful books and saw pictures and postcards of places we had only heard about and never seen, when we were shown masterpieces of art for the first time—those days were gone.

I often think of Hattie now. I wonder if she ever knew just how special her little acts of kindness were, if she ever knew just how much she awakened the minds of those five and six year olds?

In summer 2000, Gerry Lidstrom came back to the Selective as a returning fellow. He teaches seventh grade at Southwest Jr. High in Forest Lake. He has been his district's English chairperson, as well as a member of its Grad Standards committee. He has been teaching in the same room for 31 years.