A Letter to My Grandson

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on July 18, 2014

It's Ethan's birthday today and I want him to know about the best birthday gift ever; I got it when I was 10 years old. And today, July 18, 2014, Ethan is 10 years old.

My Dear Ethan,

Today you are 10.  That's a very big thing. You might not feel the change yet, you probably still feel the same as you felt last night, but it won't be long before you realize that the ground beneath your feet is much farther away than it has been.  And before you know it your favorite shoes no longer fit your feet. That's when you know you've entered a new stage in your life, your legs and feet suddenly start growing.  But don't worry about that because being 10 is much more important than simply growing longer legs and bigger feet.  It is the year when your mind begins to grow and grow and it just keeps right on growing. That is the biggest and the most amazing thing about being 10.

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When I was 10, I was given a tiny pink pocket knife. It had two little blades and it was the first time I was ever allowed to have or to hold a pocket knife.  Knives were dangerous and along with the knife, I was given new important rules. Keep the blade turned away from yourself.  Never loan it to anyone. Never point it toward others. Don't run with the knife open in your hand. Do not let it out of your sight.  Do not cut yourself.  Those were the rules, but I learned so much more. 

I could cut my own tree limbs, I could carve my initials on trees, I could peel the bark from sticks, I could whittle points on those sticks and they would become arrows, I could fight monsters, I could protect my little brother and I could peel my own apples; I could cut notches in trees as I wandered the mountains, I would never get lost and never be hungry and I would be safe with my knife. My mind was filled to the brim with all that I could do with that tiny pink double blade pocket knife. I was so glad to be 10!

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Ethan, you've been to the mountains where I grew up so you already know a lot about what I'm going to tell you. 

When I was 10 I was allowed to climb to the top of the mountain that was behind my home, as long as Pepper, my white dog, went with me.  Pepper wasn't any particular kind of dog, but she'd been my very own dog since I was 4. She was very grown up when I was 10 and knew the mountain even better than I did.  Wherever I went, Pepper went, too. Now with Pepper and my new pink pocket knife, I could go anywhere up that mountain, and so we did, just Pepper and me.

I stuffed my pockets with apples and maybe pears, sometimes a carrot, and off we'd go, Pepper beside me and the knife in a pocket, where pocket knives belong.

We explored those dark empty spaces beneath cliffs that hung out over the creek that ran down the mountainside all the way to the road down in front of my house and from there to a bigger stream that took it to the north fork of the Kentucky River, miles and miles away. Under the cliff there was just room enough to sit with Pepper beside me and watch the rabbits and squirrels and even the birds drink from that creek.  The water was clear and came fresh from the mountain so Pepper and I drank from it, too.  It was there beneath the cliff and beside the creek that I carved a little boat from a limb that had fallen from the pine tree that grew on top of the cliff. It was my first carving with my new knife and through a knothole in the limb I added another stick with a poplar leaf attached and my boat was ready to sail down the mountain creek to the stream below and on to Kentucky River to make its way to faraway places.  I carved my initial 'S' on the bottom of the little boat, and I added a 'P' for Pepper.  Our boat was on its way.

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We had worked so hard carving that boat, it was time for lunch. I took an apple from my pocket and carefully peeled and quartered it, just like I had seen my grandmother do with her very own big pocket knife.  I admired my peeling job and it looked just fine to me.  Pepper agreed and she and I ate our apple as we sat beneath the cliff.  We listened to the sounds of the mountain as we ate; my dad always said the mountains were silent, but Pepper and I knew better.  We could hear tiny critters scurrying beneath the fallen leaves and the squirrels were arguing over a hickory nut and the birds were singing all around us.  There was a knock knock knocking above our heads and we looked up to see a speckled woodpecker looking down at us.  I learned that if I sat very very still, the critters, including the birds, didn't mind that we visited their world.  The birds kept singing and the woodpecker kept pecking and the rabbits grabbed the apple peel and ran. A big green June bug landed on my knee, we watched as it climbed, its tiny feet tickling my skin and when I laughed it flew away.  I met face to face with lady bugs and a butterfly or two landed on Pepper's nose.  Pepper's eyes crossed when she looked at it, but she didn't move at all.  I folded my knife, tossed the apple core in the direction of the rabbits and told Pepper that even if the rabbits didn't eat it, the raccoons that came to drink from the creek at night would truly love that apple core.  Pepper and I continued to climb the mountain.  The boat that we had set sail for parts unknown was already out of sight and on its way.

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I was 10 and already with my new pink pocketknife I had built a boat, fed myself, my dog and the critters and as we climbed the mountain I carved little notches on limbs of trees, so that I could follow the notches and always find my way home again.  Being 10 brought with it new freedom and with that freedom came big responsibilities. Already I could feel my mind growing.

I have always loved little rocks, and on this first trip of climbing the mountain all by myself, I stopped along the way looking for unusual shapes or colors in the tiny rocks I found. In the mountain stream, the rocks were rounded and worn smooth by years and years of the running stream.  There's coal in our mountains and many tiny black pebbles were in the stream or beside it.  I knew those pebbles had coal in them, formed from the coal veins that were the bones of our mountains. I could not even imagine how old those tiny pebbles were.  I gathered the most perfectly round black pebbles and they began to fill my pockets.  Some of them were embedded in the soil, but with my little knife they were easy to get without disturbing others by digging holes.  I had already learned that disturbing the mountain could lead to landslides, and landslides could mar the run of the stream. They would also cause impurities in the water. All these thoughts were on my mind; it was new, these thoughts of responsibility. I was responsible for the upkeep of the mountain, the cleanliness of the stream.  It was a big responsibility but I was 10 now and I could handle it.  My mind was growing, thanks to my new pink pocketknife and the freedoms that came with it.

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I discovered that even in rain, I could crawl beneath the limbs of tall pine trees and find soft shelter in the pine needles that covered the ground.  And peeping through the limbs, I often saw birds above me, doing the same thing Pepper and I were doing, staying dry, protected by trees. We could see the glitter of raindrops dangling from leaves and sparkling like diamonds when the sun made its way from behind summer rain clouds. Sometimes we even saw a rainbow forming a bridge from one mountain to another.  I told Pepper that if we could find the end of the rainbow, we would find a pot of gold, but before we could even climb from our bed of warm dry pine needles, the rainbow was usually gone.  There is nothing more beautiful than a rainbow arching between two mountains, and I felt like that rainbow was just for me, now that I was 10.

We explored the mountain, Pepper and I, that year when I was 10.  Ethan, I know that doesn't sound nearly as exciting as some of the gifts you might receive today for your tenth birthday, but think of it.  I learned that I could survive alone on the mountain with nothing but my dog and my pocket knife.  I found berries to eat, water to drink, shelter from the rain. I cut notches so I would not be lost, I learned to watch the sun and when it got close to the mountain across the way from mine, it was nearing evening and time to find my way home. I had a pocket filled with smooth round pebbles, I had a blue feather and one that was black.  I carried with me a mind filled with June bugs and butterflies, rainbows and rabbits and a boat I had built that was surely on its way to another world. And responsibilities, my mind was filled with them.  It was the best birthday ever and I've carried the memory of it all through the years.

I hope you will have the same kind of birthday, Ethan, one that is filled with new things, new responsibilities and new adventures; one that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

I will always love you, my Ethan, Happy Birthday number 10!

Love, Nana

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About Sharon Brown
I am a retired art and humanities teacher. I am an artist and I am also a writer who has written a series of articles about the history and medicinal value of Kentucky wildflowers. The articles tell of growing up in the mountains of southeast Kentucky with my great Aunt Bett and Granny Ninna. I currently live in western KY.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
I was twelve grannysgarden Jul 30, 2014 6:02 PM 4
Happy Birthday Ethan! vic Jul 26, 2014 4:09 PM 10
Happy Birthday, Ethan! ArleneB Jul 21, 2014 4:15 PM 11
Wow, Ethan, you're TEN!!! DaylilyOma2 Jul 19, 2014 8:56 PM 1
Happy 10th birthday Ethan. Zanymuse Jul 18, 2014 4:56 PM 1

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