When I was growing up there was this old crabby widow who lived a few houses down from us. To protect her family name, I will call her Miss Crinklewhite, a fictitious appellation only from the mind of...Minolta. Anyway, the neighborhood kids referred to her as the Grand Canyon, partly because of her wrinkles and partly because of the way her mouth always seemed agape hollering at us for some distant trespass or other.
Throughout the long, languid dog days of summer vacations, tired of kick-the-can and matinees and walking to town, we prepubescent wunderkids often gathered in our favorite neighborhood tree, an ancient mimosa, among its fragrant blossoms and wide strong limbs. Each of us had 'our' limb for these sultry afternoons, claimed by seniority or strength or the latest daring do. Growing bored with each other, we turned our imaginations toward Miss Crinklewhite and her solitary mystery.
In the back of our minds we all knew she was different. She was from Scotland, talked funny, was very proper, and always out gardening, so quite familiar to all of us. Yet still mysterious. My folks said she was an old maid and I had to agree she resembled the lady in that deck of cards. But how old was she? Neither of my parents knew and warned our group never to ask.
Telling your child NOT to do something means they most certainly will, so the day before school resumed, I was challenged by my mates to approach the Grand Canyon with this forbidden query, with the prize of highest limb being offered for such bravery. I must admit some trepidation permeated my being as I approached her and that sacred garden of hers. "Miss Crinklewhite, may I ask how old you are?"
I was surprised at the quaver in my voice. Although somewhat startled, the old maid's face quickly beamed back at me under her sun bonnet, her broad smile making me the startled one now.
"I'll be 92 tomorrow laddie, will you be so kind as to bring me those clippers?" With that exchange began a wonderful friendship of 8 years.
Sure, I enjoyed the top limb, but Miss Crinklewhite made me aware of life far beyond what I could see from there. The lesson here is that if you don't know something, ask. This is how I determined the age of the "Grand Canyon'.