Did you plan your life when you were young? Did the years follow your plan?
As most of us learn, life often brings surprises.
Like grandkids - some arrive genetically, some are just waiting for you.
Many years ago, a nephew living in Tennessee brought his family to our Oklahoma home for Christmas. Great-nephew Clint was a newborn then, his brother Matt about age 3. Their grandma, my sister, who was also a Christmas guest that year, quickly bonded with the baby. They occupied the rocking chair the entire time of their visit.
Despite a bad case of the flu that insisted every one participate, we created the pattern that would make memories for a lifetime. Ned gave Matt a gift of McDonald's coupons. Matt was delighted and eager to go to "Mac-O-Donald's" to spend them. Magically, McDonalds had melded with the Old McDonald Farm song a child loved. We often pronounce it that way today.
Later, we would make trips to their little blueberry farm in the beautiful Tennessee hills, sit on the long porch of the small gray house in the evening and watch the baby crawl on all fours before us.
"Is that a puppy?" I asked playfully one night, not recognizing an early penchant for make believe.
Clint responded. He barked. And he barked. And he barked.
I grew alarmed, pleading with him to become our little boy again.
"You started it," said his dad, laughing. "Figure it out."
Today, no one recalls exactly how it ended. Probably the baby tired of the adult fuss when he was just being creative.
After we moved back to Wyoming, Ned bought a new pickup truck, hooked it to a horse trailer, and moved the Tennessee family to Casper.
Our Pheasant Crest Farm near Midvale was filled with magical attractions for a couple of little boys. Ned built bonfires for the boys in our back yard with supplies handy for wiener and marshmallow roasts. There was a tree house, a saddle horse with a new colt who loved to play in the strawberry patch, baby owls peering down from their nest high in the golden willows, deer stopping by for a snack from the crabapple trees. And rides on the little Ford tractor.
The farmhouse lent itself to visitors and extended family gatherings where food was spread on picnic tables on the redwood deck and everyone got re-acquainted. If you wanted to sleep out under the starry sky, you were always welcome to fling a bedroll out on the cool grass and dream the night away. Or crawl into the big tent an uncle had erected.
Matt and Clint came from Casper with their parents to participate. And Ned and I loved every minute.
Matt, at about age 8, proved to be an expert horseman, calmly in synch and in control of Ned's saddle mare, Brandy. In obvious contrast, I feared the lively mare. I couldn't handle her.
Clint, at age 8, entertained and challenged our thinking with sage observations like, "Why was I named after two dead people?" and "Never kiss a hurtin' man!"
With the boys and their parents, we shared trips to the mountains -- fishing, hiking bear country, hunting mountain flowers and gathering firewood from the autumn forests.
When Ned brought two little blue snowmobiles home in his horse trailer, we headed for the hills in below-zero temperatures, took the boys on snowy rides to Brooks Lake while their dad skied the steep slopes.
As a teen, Clint and his dad stayed with us while Clint participated - and won - a state wrestling competition at Riverton High School, with a self-discipline that earned it.
We attended Matt's college graduation with honors from U.W. in Laramie. Clint earned his doctorate in Nevada.
Now adults, the boys both came back to visit. As we stood around the dinner table with linked hands, they moaned in mock protest, "Aunt Betty, do we have to?"
"Yes," I said. "We've done it since you were small. Like your mother taught you."
Together, we sang the Johnny Appleseed prayer, "The Lord is good to me. And so I thank the Lord, for giving me the sun and the rain and the apple tree. The Lord is good to me."
A couple of days ago, we received several photos of a darling baby boy named "Chance," the son of Clint and Annie. We can't wait to get acquainted.
This all proves a long-held theory of ours: Grandkids can be where you find them. Or where they find you.