Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 8:54 PM on Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clean it up, Grandma

9-year-old granddaughter offers words to live by


McKibben Jackinsky

From the mouths of babes ... The particular babe in question is Sophia, my 9-year-old granddaughter. Her very name means "wisdom." Believe me, her parents chose well.

Not one to pull punches, Sophia has always let me know what she thinks. She is free with her open, honest and usually uninvited observations. I've been given feedback on everything from my cooking to the way gravity is impacting my aging body.

The first time I heard a comment of that type from her, I was taken aback and thought this was one rude little kid who needed a lesson in polite communication. I've since learned to value her honesty and the long-reaching impact it has.

Last month she and her brother, Colby, 14, flew up from Portland to spend spring break with their grandparents. It was a whirlwind week of snowshoeing, sledding, beach walking, rock and shell collecting, board games, crafts, reading, campfire building, family picnics with hotdogs and marshmallows, movies, late nights and early get-ups.

Before they arrived, however, I knew a week with Sophia would offer new and undoubtedly valuable insights. She did not disappoint. Among all the suggestions she offered, two pearls of wisdom continue pulling at my attention.

For starters, Sophia was less than complimentary of her Grandma McK's wardrobe. In my mind, my closet is filled with Ninilchik cabin comfort that fits in well with Homer's dress code. To Sophia's city-framed style, I needed some dressing up. She graciously sat down with me one evening, pulled out a catalog from which I order my basic, go-with-everything T-tops and matter of factly said, "We are going to do some shopping."

After pages of skirts, dresses and shoes, with Sophia pointing to colors and styles she imagined would look good on yours truly, she assumed I had the picture.

I will admit I haven't put on a pair of jeans since her visit without recalling that evening with her. I'll also confess I haven't been shopping. In fact, during the last cabin-cleaning effort, the catalog went into the trash.

Sophia's second observation hit closer to home, but is going to be much tougher to change than a new set of clothes.

Sophia, Colby and I were snowshoeing one morning and I was having a horrible time adjusting the bindings on the borrowed snowshoes I was wearing. They kept flipping around and I kept falling in the snow. I did my best to stay calm, but my frustration finally won out and a string of four-letter words flew from my mouth. With the next fall, they erupted again, much to Sophia's dislike.

"There is nothing worse than hearing the f-word come out of your grandmother's mouth," Sophia shouted, as I lay sprawled in the snow.

Four-letter words first crossed these lips the summer I became a single parent and found myself working the slime line in a cannery. Standing ankle deep in cold water, wielding a sharp knife to scrape back bloodlines from salmon, greedily shoving food into my mouth with fish scale-covered fingers whenever we were given a break, slugging down coffee in order to stay awake the long-houred days ... well, "please" and "thank-you" didn't fit the picture. Nor did they carry much weight.

There were only two of us gals working in that cannery and we got slammed with every obscenity the guys could hurl our way, a test to our staying power. Our defense was to hurl it back as good as we got.

A decade later, I landed my first job at Prudhoe Bay. The first half of a four-week-on/two-week off hitch was spent working from 4:30 a.m.-7 p.m. pumping gas for every gasoline-powered vehicle on that side of the oil field. It was the cannery times 10, with the men going to great lengths to test my mettle.

Crude jokes were meant to rattle me. Playboy pin-ups taped to the outside of crew buses were an effort to infuriate me. Foul comments were made to bait me. I'd go back to my room at night in tears, vowing to be stronger the next day, tougher, less reactionary.

The second two weeks of my hitch was spent power washing mud-coated heavy equipment before it went into the shop for repairs. There is no way to climb up, over, under a 988 loader, dressed in rain gear, goggles on your face, crawling through muck and operating a power washer without uttering something stronger than, "Oh, dear."

The remainder of my 10 years in Alaska's oil patch wasn't as physically grueling as that summer, but the assignments were all in environments where tough work equaled tough people equaled tough talk.

All of that was before Sophia, however. Before French-braiding a granddaughter's hair. Before reading bedtime books about salmon princesses. Before immersing myself in games of dress-up.

I'm not giving up my jeans. Those are part of the lifestyle I live.

The four-letter words have got to go, though, tough as that may be. They were part of then. My grandchildren are now.

Sophia was correct. Now, if she'll just be patient.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.