Potentials of Personhood


We’ve come a thousand miles to meet our second grand daughter, Taryn. We’ve held her, walked her, whistled, sung, hummed and baby-talked to her. We’ve changed her diaper, retrieved her passifier from the floor more than once, and been serenaded for a total of several hours over five days by her thrashing arms and legs and lungs exercises, especially when hungry. She was hungry only when awake.

But have we really met her? Yes, and no.

I asked Taryn’s six-year-old sister, Abby, what were her earliest memories of her grandma and grampa. She shrugged. And when did she first remember meeting Tsuga? That got a response–if not an answer.

And we have to wonder: does two-week-old Taryn see more than shapes, patterns of light and shadow? She certainly recognizes her mother’s voice, and turns her floppy disproportionately-large head to follow that sound. She stopped crying tonight when I whistled “Irish Eyes are Smiling”, became unusually alert and tuned in–at least for a stanza or two–before she tired of it and was ready for her momma to come home and bring dinner.

Next time we see her, her personhood will be strikingly evident. She’ll show signs of her ultimate adult personality, even, in six months. (I hope we see her again that soon.) And in her smile in March or April, her frowns, the way she holds her head will be early patterns she will carry with her on her wedding day, the day her first child is born.

And a year later–perhaps the next time we see her, and truly meet her–she will say words, walk, remember at least some things–like petting Tsuga for the first time. Sigh. It’s hard to compete with a warm puppy for the hearts and minds of grandchildren.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Congratulations, Fred!

    I had no idea being a grandparent would be so thrilling till our grandson was born nine months ago. Getting old does have a few compensations.

    I just wish we could put all the money we spend on airfares to Minnesota somewhere more fun. Or at least in his college fund.

  2. What a lovely baby, Fred! It is a wonderful thing to watch babies and their wide-eyed discovery of the world, but it’s even more wonderful when they are yours–epecially grandchildren. And she certainly looks like she is taking in everything with those big, beautiful eyes!

  3. Fred – she is absolutely gorgeous……and those eyes are beautiful…………Can’t you just picture her in a few years following Abby & Tsuga through the streams of Goose Creek? My grand-daughter is now 5 years old & she amazes me all the time with her knowledge of the world at such a young age……….She is a budding photographer, learning on my first Nikon (a little 3.2MP)……….recently she has been photographing the 12 little black swallowtail larvae on the fennell……..She takes one larva off to pet it & of course we giggle at the odor it sends off, thinking we are predators………What fun we have……….