Berger’s Burg: To children, ‘grandpa’ is another word for ‘friend’

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Children learn that the best place to be when sad is sitting on grandpa’s lap.

Sept. 10 is Grandparents Day. Every year it is observed nationally on the first Sunday after Labor Day. This special day is to give grandparents the recognition and love they earned and deserve. I still remember my grandfather reading to me as I sat on his lap. My favorite was the story “The Wooden Bowl,” adapted by Domenico Vittorini. Share it with your children and grandchildren:

“Once upon a time in Italy, there was a little boy named Robertino. He and his grandfather were great friends and spent much time together. Robertino loved to sit on his grandfather’s knee and listen to fairy tales and other exciting stories Grandpa told him. Often they would journey together to the land of make-believe. No matter how fantastic the stories or the games they played, the bond between the two was real — the only bond that kept the old man attached to his life.

“Grandfather had come to live with Robertino’s parents when Grandmother died three years before. Robertino’s mother was a capable woman who took care of her husband and little son, but she did not understand the loneliness of the old man. Sometimes she was impatient with him, especially on the days when he would drop things.”

Grandfathers are as necessary to a child’s growth as sunshine, vitamins and Spider-Man.

“Once at supper, Grandfather picked up his cup to drink coffee, but spilled most of it on the clean white tablecloth. The cup then fell from his hands and shattered into many pieces. Robertino’s mother was angry and spoke harshly at the old man. Grandfather never said a word, but looked at her with hurt in his eyes. Grandfather was then relegated to a separate, little kitchen table and had to eat by himself. He accepted the punishment, but there was sadness in his eyes and the gentle smile he gave his grandchild.

“From that evening on, as soon as Robertino finished his supper, he would run into the kitchen to be with the old man. Grandfather would take him on his knee and begin a story, and as the magic words began to weave their spell, the bare little kitchen became a beautiful land where there was no pain or sadness and where an old man and a little boy could roam hand-in-hand.

“As time went on, Grandfather became weaker and his hands shook more. One night, as he sat alone in the kitchen, he dropped his bowl of porridge all over the kitchen floor and it broke into many pieces. Robertino was upset by the indignation of his parents and the consternation of his grandfather.

“The old man was confused and crushed. Robertino’s mother spoke more harshly than she had ever done before and said the only thing to do was to give the old man a wooden bowl. She could not, she said, have her dishes broken just because he had become so careless. She made a big fuss over cleaning up the floor. Robertino stood by silently as she mopped and polished until the floor was spotless again, scolding and mumbling resentfully all the while.

“Suddenly, the child went over to the fireplace where his mother had swept the fragments of the bowl. He carefully picked out the pieces and began to put them together. He worked so earnestly that soon the bowl seemed to be whole. Then he took from the side of the hearth a small piece of wood and began to whittle it, keeping his eyes on the earthen bowl as if it were a model. After a while, his parents, curious to see what he was doing, went over to him.

“‘What are you making, Robertino?’ asked his mother fondly. She always spoke kindly to her son.

“‘I am making a wooden bowl for you to have when you grow old,” answered Robertino.

“His mother and father looked at each other with embarrassment. They were too ashamed to meet Robertino’s eyes. Then the mother took Grandfather’s arm and led him back to the table in the dining room and stood near him and helped him as he ate.

“From that time onward, Grandfather never ate alone in the kitchen again. He sat in his usual place, next to Robertino, in the dining room. And Robertino was happy again. His grandfather was loved and cared for, and as Robertino watched his parents, he realized that they, too, were experiencing a new and wonderful happiness — for loving kindness brings true, lasting happiness.”

Grandfathers are the cheapest toy even a young child can operate.

Every child should have a grandfather around to love and be loved!

Contact Alex Berger at

Updated 6:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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