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The Full Suburban: Words of wisdom – and surprising words – from the Greatest Generation

Julia Ditto enjoys the wise words of her Grandma Donna.  (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
Julia Ditto enjoys the wise words of her Grandma Donna. (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

For Mother’s Day last month, my kids made cards for their Great-Grandma Donna and sent them to her at her home in Southern California. I’m assuming that she was thrilled to open her big envelope full of homemade cards because they were funny and adorable, not unlike my children.

A few weeks later, we received a letter back from Grandma Donna filled with a pack of stickers and a crisp dollar bill for each child. “I love you very much and thank you for your beautiful thank you cards,” she began.

“Be good kids and mind your mommy and daddy.” I felt all the warm fuzzies as I read her sweet words aloud to my kids. “What a treasure this letter is,” I thought. “I’m going to hang onto this forever.”

And then I arrived at the last line, her parting words of wisdom before signing off: “My house is small, but my TV is large.” I laughed out loud. An (almost) haiku for our time; truly, words to live by. Grandma Donna’s letter got me thinking about a few other times my conversations with a member of an older generation haven’t ended quite how I expected.

One happened just last week when I was out on my morning walk and passed an elderly gentleman walking down the opposite side of the road in a hilly and forested area near my home. I often pass this same man on the road – me at my power-walking speed and him at his slow and careful pace.

I’ve admired his drive to get out and exercise even though it can’t be easy for him. We always exchange a pleasant “hello” or “enjoy the beautiful weather,” but nothing more. This day, however, I noticed him moving a long, skinny tree branch by the side of the road.

“Did that blow down in the last windstorm?” I asked him, slowing down my Olympic pace and removing my earphones. “Yeah, looks like it,” he replied. “Is this your property?” I continued, apparently in a chatty, neighborly mood.

“No, I live further up the road,” he said. “Oh, so you’re just being a Good Samaritan?” I exclaimed. “That’s nice of you to clean up this mess!” He shrugged his shoulders, suddenly a little sheepish. “Well, this is usually where I take my potty break, so …”

His voice trailed off, and we both laughed. Had he been a younger man, it would have been creepy. But he’s my neighborhood walking buddy, and it was more amusing than anything. “I’ll let you get back to it then!” I replied, and I high-tailed it out of sight quicker than you can say “nature’s outhouse.”

Another memorable conversation happened several years ago when we lived in Seattle while Logan was going to dental school. Our apartment complex abutted the parking lot of University Village, an outdoor, upscale shopping mall.

Being low on cash and high on time to kill, I would often strap my three young children into our double stroller – baby lying down in the back, toddler sitting in the front and preschooler straddling the sun shade like a rodeo cowboy.

We would head over to the mall to window shop, never actually buying anything but enjoying the train set in Barnes & Noble and the free outdoor playground. One day, we were heading into a store just as a kind-looking elderly woman was leaving.

She looked down at my adorable children and stopped to talk. “Oh, enjoy these days,” she said sweetly, gesturing down at my kids sitting happily in their stroller. “They go so quickly, and before you know it, they’re gone.”

She looked wistfully off into the distance, and I smiled, relishing the interaction I was having with this wise emissary from the Greatest Generation. I opened my mouth, just about to respond, when she squinted her gaze into the parking lot and said, “Now, where the hell did I leave my car?”

I think she and my Grandma Donna would get along fabulously. Because, truly, the parking lot is large, but the car is lost.

Julia Ditto can be reached at

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