Erin O'daniel is a writer, artist and gender expansive womxn living in Duluth, Minnesota

Old Bat

I drove down tenth avenue east yesterday afternoon behind a deep red, sparkly Toyota sedan with the Minnesota license “Old Bat”. I leaned closer and laughed. My two year old pup named Bat sat contently in the backseat of our car. I wished I’d had my phone handy to capture and share the personalized plate with my Bat lovers and old bats.

Recently I’ve had delightful conversations about the plentiful cross-generational experiences in my life. I spent this past week outside Chicago for the turkey-fest, thanks-filled holiday with my Dad and his partner Wanda. We enjoyed leisurely days together and each evening after dinner listened to a Windy City radio station of 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s mix music while playing SkipBo.

Neither Dad nor Wanda had ever heard of SkipBo before. I found it fascinating to teach them both this game I’ve played for thirty years- mostly during satisfying summer visits to my family’s cottage in western New York State. We were gifted the original deck in 1988 from our conservative, card shark neighbors the Glenzers. They lived in an economically advantaged way compared to us Swedish simpletons with a yard and front porch full of recycled furniture (from them as well). Most at our cottage (uncles, aunts, cousins, mom, sister, grandma and grandpa) were new to SkipBo and played with gusto- never thinking of the crisp cards with slightly worn edges as “old”. I’d played a bit with my best friend Pickle back home in Dallas during the previous summer after 5th grade.

This past August, my mom and I made the executive decision that that old Glenzer gifted deck had met its death. I pulled it out of a Ziploc bag one evening at the beginning of our time together at the cottage and it smelled like sporty, sweaty socks. Mildew from thirty plus years waterside had won.

Months later, I perused the game shelves at my local Duluth Minnesota Goodwill store. I spotted SkipBo Deluxe and snatched it up. I said a little thank you to both Mrs. Glenzer (who passed away a year ago this month) and my Grandma Ruth (who left this planet in 1994). What a 2 dolla score!

When I decided to spend this thanksgiving in the Midwest at Dad and Wanda’s, without any carry-on restrictions, throwing the game in the car seemed like a top notch idea. I had no idea they’d be so thrilled with the late day activity.

Wanda, a feisty Polish woman, got zealous after her first win. “Read Em and Weep!!” were the words loudly and playfully flung at my dad when she flipped over her final card, victorious.

My dad was impressed with my swift runs and strategic placement of SkipBos (wilds). Both he and Wanda yearned to fly through the deck like I did, decades of experience in my hands. I complimented the competition with dance and song breaks, enthralled by the selection of music coming from the radio station Wanda had selected. Cyndi Lauper! Celine! Diana Ross! Grease! Johnny Cash! Prince! Stevie Nicks! It was a delightful night of fun, laughter, and warmth. “Read Em and Weep!” became the collective war cry as I shuffled game after game.

There’s something about spending time with Old Bats who are up for intelligent fun and simple creative expression that satiates me to the core. The kindness and lack of hard competition or ego feels familiar. I think of my Grandma Ruth. Our connection was deep, effortless, art and adventure filled, shaped by a shared love of life, people and wildness. She was my first best friend and still moves me every single day.

Cross generational connection builds relationship and community in profound ways. Playing card games, organizing community events, creating relationships- there’s a willing, egoless openness in all these experiences asking me to listen and learn. I don’t always find this with folx in my own generation.

Recently I’ve started dating a Duluthian eighteen years older than me. Cross generational connection for sure. Doing the math now, she was born in 1959! This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen for someone alive well before I was. However, in the last decade, I’ve dated dudes close in age and partnered with several womxn 2-8 years younger than I am. Notably, the longest lasting romances I’ve had are with queers 8-17 years older. I pause and muse on this fact enthralled by the ease and beauty in the recent connection. We share a deep commitment to justice and systems change plus both approach the world in a wacky, wildly smart, compassionate, green way.

Cross generational romantic relationships have historically been frowned upon. Especially anything outside the heteronormative rich older male, young white female hottie trope. When I shared details about this new connection with my sister last weekend, she laughed and said, “You’re home! These are the relationships where you do best. You like being the sexy young thing.” I laughed back and asserted there’s much more- I feel present in cross generational connections in grounded and glittering ways. I become awareness on the level of being.

I think of my meditation group- I’m the youngest by about a decade. My beloved writing group, aka my grandmas+grandpa group, I’m two decades plus younger than the other members. The closeness and appreciation I feel for these families overflows my heart fairly often, flinging my chest open to the world unwilling to imagine anything happening to them. I Love these people who have lived years longer.

There’s something in cross and multigenerational relationships that makes me feel safe and inspired. In shared stillness, I’m also reminded my heart, mind and body are strong. My senses Bat smart. Yes, my ego sometimes gets in the way- I notice mild irritation at confused moments during SkipBo or lack of cell phone savvy, yet mostly I can let go. Lean in and grab hold of what I want and savor the deliciousness of exactly where I am and who I am with.

I circle back to the beauty of my Grandma Ruth, how she and I formed an unbreakable bond, built a love I trust more than anything. As I walk further into new romance, I smile at the surprises in love. When, where, why. What it feel like for me to know the precise and brilliant connecting with someone older. Just being with, not having to be about. This falling is ions connecting across synapses of spacious stretches of time and air. Nothing to make sense of and certainly nothing to rationalize or try to make bigger or more real. No reason for it, no need to explain. These connections already are, thanks to years and years of love filled experience.

I smile at the old bats who fly in and out of life. How now at forty one, I’m sometimes the old bat in the room with wisdom and experience younger folx drink in. This middle place where I stand, ripe, is rich. I have so much to lend and still so much to learn.




Fresh Meat, Crab Fest

Ancestors North and South