Holiday times with family are really precious, yet they come and go so quickly. We had 22 family members with us this Christmas, including all four grandchildren. I’ve written about my summer gravel and limb-cutting activities with eldest grandchild Jack. Now I turn to our eldest granddaughter Hazel.

Hazel is a delightfully four years old. I know whenever I see her that I’ll get a huge hug around both of my legs until I hoist her up so that we’re face-to-face, and then I’ll get a giant hug right around the neck accompanied by a heartily voiced (she has a booming voice, especially for one so young), “Hi Grandpa!” or “I love you, Grandpa!” — music, of course, to any grandparent’s ears.

This time of year here in Wilton, we’ll head out to the yard, and she’ll get into our battery-operated, kid-sized mini-Jeep. She likes to go “off-road” on the grass, frequently with her younger sister Nora or first cousins Jack or Ellis seated beside her, skipping the macadam driveway to make the best use of a Jeep as she knows well from Maine.

As she cruises around, it reminds me of our times together up in Maine when she rides with me on our garden tractor as we do a little mowing or pull a small trailer to do some minor project or another. She is always my good companion and aide-de-camp on projects small and even large, and I know she will stay well on task. Up in Maine she once worked with me for more than an hour clearing out some brush. The work involved a fair amount of dragging by hand but also, on small felled trees, using a chain attached to a hook on the (full-sized) Jeep’s bumper to pull them out of the woods for cutting up. In this work, she would sit on my lap steering the Jeep at very low speeds as we did the dragging.

Eventually, she went down to play in the yard, but when I later offered her a trip to the dump to dispose of a trailer load of the fruits of our labors, she readily agreed, saying, “I love going to the dump with you!” Once again, more than enough to warm a grandpa’s heart.

Here in Wilton at this time of year, our tasks are more in-house oriented, and my faithful assistant and I move from one small project to another. She always wants to help and to try the tools herself, and she is often very helpful notwithstanding her tender years. We also do more kid-friendly things like coloring (staying within the lines is still tough for me, as she chidingly points out with what I can only call a smiley frown: “Grandpa, you have to color more carefully!”) or reading books to her (portions of three are required before naps — a practice unfailingly observed unless I fall asleep first, as not infrequently happens). And of course, she makes sure I see what a conscientious caregiver she is for her dolls (good practice for taking care of me in my dotage …). Sometimes we sit together or run around just acting silly, which is easy to do on my end since neither of us is ever sure what grandpa will come up with next. She handles that unpredictability quite well and actually even seems to relish it.

What will the world hold for her when she grows up? The list of bad things is all too easy for all of us to name: the consequences of global warming, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, none of which were part of my childhood (though we did back then have woefully inadequate “duck-and-cover” drills at school in preparation for nuclear attack, a good early-maturity builder on both ends of the age spectrum as our parents tried to explain to us what that was all about).

The good news is that over the last three-quarters of a century, we seem to have learned what is needed for a better and more peaceful world, and beginning in earnest post-World War II through lessons hard-learned there, we have established institutions and practices to foster the accomplishment of that vision. The question now is: will we continue to nourish those institutions and practices or turn our backs on them in the self-destructive ways of the 1920s and 1930s that crippled world trade and fostered isolationism and the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. Time will tell. For the kids of Hazel’s age, I remain prayerfully optimistic.