I want to introduce you to one of my favorite Playful Humans, Alida Lyn Erickson, or as I call her…
She was born on April Fool’s Day, and I always thought that made her sense of humor just a little bit better than everyone else’s. I am quite sure she is the one who most shaped my sense of humor, too. She is the one who introduced me to Monty Python, Dave Barry, and The Far Side. I watch my first Benny Hill and Mr. Bean sketches at her house, and she bought me a Dwight Schrute bobbled head for my first office. If you don’t recognize any of those names, please Google them right now, and let Grandma Lyn be the reason they are in your life, too!
When I think of a Playful Human, I think of Grandma Lyn.
Her mother was a piano teacher, and there was always a keyboard and good music at her house. She painted for a hobby and painted a soccer ball, basketball, and baseball on top of stools for our basement rec-room. She loves puzzles and games, and always did the crossword puzzles in the newspaper. She gardened and had a cat for over 20 years whom she named Kato because it would attack her like she was the Pink Panther.
It always seemed to me that Grandma Lyn was in a good mood.
Her house was always open to us, and it was filled with love, toys, and tasty food. When your 91-year-old Grandma loves Cheetos and chocolate, something is right with the world. And speaking of Cheetos, she used to have a collection of them which were shaped like animals or Abraham Lincoln and such. She saw shapes in them like people do with clouds, and she placed her favorites in old jewelry boxes to display her collection for guests. That is until my dad ate the months-old, stale Cheetos during a holiday party… right off the padded display box!
For April Fool’s Day, she stole her neighbor’s newspaper one year and kept it in the closet until the next year when she replaced it on their doorstep so they could enjoy the news from last year’s April 1st! She kept that up for years, maybe decades… Grandma Lyn has the perfect sense of humor because it was never mean-spirited. I don’t remember her ever making fun of someone or being sarcastic to the point of being bitter or crabby. Instead, she loves puns, being silly, and laughing at herself and the situations we all get into in life. She never took anything too seriously.
She gave us permission to play, which I now find one of the most valuable and important things in life.
I think it was my Uncle Scott, who coined the term “Creative Nerdery” at Grandma Lyn’s house. It was the term my family used when the kids were in a state of pure, innate play, and being silly. My cousins, brother, sister, and I would go back to her toy room to make up a skit or dress up with something goofy on our heads, and then come out to perform for our parents and Grandma Lyn in the living room. We recorded fake radio shows on her tape records, typed out creative stories on her typewriter, and played terrible music on toy instruments.
She also encouraged us to learn.
I took apart her broken radio, learned about prisms and crystals, and she taught me about microchips that she brought home from her job as a quality control manager at AT&T. Before the Internet, we had Grandma instead of Google when we didn’t know something or how to spell a word. Her phone number is one of a handful that I still know by heart. She taught me to appreciate technology, the mystery of magic, and the beauty of nature. It was not just the creative part, but also the nerdery, that I appreciated. I learned from Grandma Lyn that people can be extremely intelligent and silly at the same time. People like Steve Martin, Barenaked Ladies, MythBusters, and Mark Rober epitomize the creative nerdery spirit that I am talking about. That’s what creative nerdery and being a playful human means to me.
I also want to briefly mention that her life wasn’t easy, just in case you think she was born privileged, lucky, or blessed. She may have been all those things at some point, but life was not easy. You can imagine that being born in 1931 was much more difficult than how we live now, but you probably can’t imagine living on so little with so little help. I regularly earn more in an hour than my grandfather did in a whole month in the military when they were living in San Diego. They moved back to Kansas City to take in her orphaned teenage sister-in-law, got a puppy, and had three girls within 3 years. Physically, she has scoliosis which causes severe back pain and sciatica, hip replacements for so long that one has been replaced a second time, and a pacemaker longer than she has had a cell phone. Honestly, that is just scratching the surface of her challenges, and yet..
Grandma Lyn is still full of love.
She is still making the staff in the assisted-living home laugh, solving crossword puzzles, and cheering on the Kansas City Chiefs. Her legacy is a family of silly, smart, successful creative nerds. She was a mother at 20 years old, a grandmother at 40, a great-grandmother at 60, and a great-great-grandmother around 80. She loves seeing all her grands and great-grands, and she is still passing along her playful spirit through Zoom get-togethers in the pandemic and loves seeing new pictures pop up on her digital photo frames. Her great-great-grandson is now almost 9 years old and will get to remember her as well!
This April Fool’s Day, I challenge you to be more creative, have more fun, laugh easily, create a safe place for others to be themselves, and be a playful human like Grandma Lyn.