Letter from Grandpa Choo Choo

Divorce tends to break apart extended family relations. Until a month ago, I had not talked to my ex-husband’s father in about 5 years. Recently I was awarded full time placement of my two boys and their Grandpa, Grandpa Choo Choo (because he loves model trains), reached out to me to foster his relationship with Jaden and Reece. Here is a letter he wrote them that I found incredibly meaningful, educational and heartfelt. We can all learn from this and appreciate all that we have and get off our damn devices! (Devices have nothing to do with this letter).

March 31, 2018

Hi Jaden and Reece

Here are some more old-time things that you might think are funny. Let me know what you think. First are some sayings that people used in everyday conversation when I was a kid:

Busier than a horse’s tail in fly time.

Make hay while the sun shines.

Feel like I came out the little end of the horn (that would be a powder horn)

Run like the Devil is chasing you.

Oh mercy me.

Well I declare!

Well, well, well, look who’s here.

If a kid had bad manners, somebody might remark: Looks like a bitch got over the wall. 

Guys, I grew up in Brodhead (WI) in a house built by my great-grandparents. They are your great-great-great-great grandparents. Family habits and traditions remained strong. Indoor plumbing was installed in that house in 1914, but nobody acted like the kitchen sink could hold water or had a drain. We had two tin dish pans. One would have water with dish soap, the other was plain rinse water. Mom would heat water in a tea kettle on the stove (which burned wood or coal) and pour the warm water into the tin pans. When we were done washing dishes, we wouldn’t pour the water from the pans down the drain. One of us would take each pan outside and throw the water off the end of the porch because that’s the way it had always been done. In the spring after the snow melted I would go out there and look for stuff that got thrown out with the dish water. There would always be a couple forks and spoons, and sometimes a coffee cup. Ha!

The first refrigerator in that house was bought in 1935. It lasted until mom bought a new one in 1968, and that one was still being used when I sold the house in 1997 – so two refrigerators lasted almost 60 years. Before refrigerators, food was kept cold in an ice box. Every few days the “ice man” would come with a truck (horse and wagon before that) and bring in another chunk of ice to put in the ice box. So we never called our refrigerator a “refrigerator.” It was always called the “ice box.” I didn’t start using the word “refrigerator” until I went away to college.

We didn’t have a garage. The house had a two-story carriage barn out back. The downstairs had room for a buggy and two horses. The upstairs was where hay and other horse feed was kept. There were two trap doors in the upstairs floor where food could be dropped into the horse’s feeding troughs. So we always called it the barn. It was hard for me to get used to the word “garage.” If you were to go in that barn today, it would still smell like horses though the first car was kept there starting in about 1920. The horses, of course, peed on the wooden barn floor and you never get that smell out of the wood. If you didn’t already know that, listen to me now – don’t pee on wooden floors! Ha, ha.

I guess that’s all the wisdom I will share for one day.

Love you guys.

Greetings from Grandma pat, too.

Grandpa Choo Choo


Jaden and Reece listened as if I was reading the most interesting and coolest excerpt from Stranger Things or Flash. They smiled and they laughed. The were confused by the naughty word “bitch” but I explained to them that the formal definition of that word is a female dog; they made a face that told me they learned something new and were satisfied.

Learning from our elders and from others is the greatest gift we have. Listening and truly listening is what makes us better and more compassionate humans.

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