“Gee It’s Really Nifty, Ernie’s Turning Fifty!” That was on the birthday cake for Grandpa 26 years ago, at his party we celebrated at the old Mural Inn in downtown Byron. The wonderful restaurant is long gone, but the memories linger. We decorated the entire upstairs in Sesame Street tablecloths, napkins, balloons and other things featuring Bert and Ernie. I bought lots of different Sesame Street toys and scattered them around the numerous tables. A DJ played wonderful dancing music, and a good time was had by all. I still can’t believe it was over a quarter-century ago.

The night before his “big 5-0,” I called my parents and wailed that, as of the next day, I would be sleeping with a 50-year-old man! “How did that happen?” I asked. They just laughed at me.

Since that night, we have celebrated several milestones together. My birthday is one day after his, so we have shared most of the nondescript ages together, in one party. I, of course, had my own surprise 50th celebration, but that was just yesterday. Or was it?

As the years have flown by, we realized age is really just a number — bigger numbers, but we are taking them all in stride. A lot of grandparents are younger than we are, and I suppose we are well on our way to greatness — grandparentally, that is — and it really doesn’t bother us at all. Our grandkids think we’re amazing, so who cares about numbers?

As we get older, so do the grandchildren, of course. It’s a joy to watch them grow, even if it’s way too fast for me. I would pick them up from school when I was needed, take them to doctor appointments or back-to-school shopping, adhering to the mandatory grandma resume.

Wednesdays are now half-days at school for grandchild number eight. We arrive about a half-hour early, get a parking spot out of the way of the heavy pick-up traffic and wait patiently until about two minutes before she comes out. It’s a short walk to the gate where I wait with joyful anticipation for my smiling child amongst a sea of cutie pies. I remember the first time, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of children that poured out of the school at the same time, but I managed to find mine with ease. Hugs and “How was your day?” begin our afternoon together, deciding between several activities and which ice cream store to go to.

As I wait at her school, I’ve noticed a number of grandparents also watching every kid go by, making sure they don’t miss their temporary ward. There’s an unspoken camaraderie and we all take our responsibility very seriously. As each child spots their grandma or grandpa, there’s a special kind of happiness that overcomes them. Not that they don’t look glad to see their parents, but I think they smile a little wider and run a bit faster into their grandparents’ welcoming arms. I know it’s the highlight of my day. A smile comes to my face as I remember picking up her sister at that very same spot a few years back.

For us, it’s ice cream Wednesday, and I bet that has just a tiny bit to do with my little one’s glee. Oh, don’t get me wrong, she is happy to see me standing there waiting for her, and always asks, “Is Grandpa in the car?” Most of the time, he is, and quite glad it’s ice cream Wednesday. Whether you are 50, 60 or older, I believe grandchildren help keep us young.

My grandparents were exceptional. We lived minutes away from them, in Brooklyn, and spent every Sunday visiting with the entire family. They made each and every one of us feel special, even though there was a gaggle of us. My grandfather would fold a few dollars into my hand and whisper, “Shhh... Don’t tell your grandmother.” She would then do the same.

I never said a word, but I think they probably planned that, and I loved them — not for the money, but for the cuteness of it all. They were married 66 years, and I try very hard to emulate their kindness and love.

Thinking back on that 50th birthday party, it seems like a long time ago, but also as if it was just yesterday. At 68, I’m happy to be in relatively good health, surrounded by friends and family, and I’m pretty sure my grandparents would absolutely approve of ice cream Wednesdays!

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at marla2054@aol.com.

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