Friday, August 29, 2008

Being Part of the Hustle and Bustle

Time with grandparents was scarce when I was a little girl. One set was divorced, of less than modest means and I don't remember either of them ever coming to our house. My other grandmother, 'Fanny', lived 100 miles away, and came to visit only after Daddy argued with Momma, then went and picked her and her snuff cup up and brought both back for a stay that lasted too long. My memories of her are mostly of watching her take down her snowy white hair at night, uncoiling that braid from where it sat, perched on top of her head, and seeing it hanging down her back. Such a contrast to my own, a curly pixie cut. Next, she'd put her teeth in a jar that sat on the nightstand. Living in a house that was full to the rafters with kids, there certainly was no guest room. She'd settle into bed, wedged between my sister and me. I was somewhat awed by her, somewhat terrified. Maybe typical of that generation, she was not a 'fun' grandparent, but rather more of a fixture.

I never again saw my Grandma Fanny after we moved away in 1969, and by the time I heard the news she'd passed away I only felt sadness for my father, rather than a loss myself.

Funny how growing up lacking something can make it such a priority. My own void of grandparenting has created in me a deep need for each grandchild who arrives in our family to know they are treasured. Just their presence, on good days and bad days, when they're two and when they're sixteen, and their parents are ready to rent them out for the day, I'll gladly take them for a day or three or seven. Seven would probably be enough for them and me.

That lacking in my own life became apparent, living in a bodunk little town in southern Illinois. The dear couple who lived next door to us, Russ and Kay, had no grandchildren of their own when we moved in. They made it clear, early on, that our children were quite welcome to cross over into their yard and their hearts, and eventually our kids ended up spending weekends at their lake house, or playing under their towering pine tree making forts, or being entertained by June bugs tied to strings, twirling around and around their heads. Their home was full to the brim with interesting things - antiques galore, a telescope, Russ's tinkering table where he took apart things and let Dan help put them back together, Kay's kitchen where something was always being whipped up and who cared about the mess? Their funny little weinee dog, Romeo was a comical counterpart to our lumbering golden retriever. Fat Romeo came with a treat jar, and Russ and Kay allowed giving him treats regardless of his girth. When our kids rang the bell on Halloween, squealing for treats, Russ and Kay took the kids in and filled their bags with cans of pop, granola bars, and whatever else their cupboard held, never mentioning they did not celebrate that holiday. A lesson in grace I haven't forgotten more than fifteen years later.

My first longings for living at a lake house come from watching this dear couple. When I think about grandparenting, this couple immediately comes to mind - their pure joy over sharing life, even for a few minutes, with little ones, whether related or planted next door for a season.

Back in 1996, moving into our home in Pennsylvania, we had two teenagers and a daughter in college. We were a typical middle-aged couple, busy with carpools and washing uniforms and teenage sassiness and angst over acne and prom dresses and tight budgets and everthing else that comes with that stage of life. That stage has passed. When we attended a retiree seminar a few years ago, the speaker told us the first thing to figure out is if we want to be the same age as everyone else in the neighborhood, riding around in golf carts (I'm thinking 'The Villages' in Florida....) or if we want to be the older couple in a neighborhood still bustling with bicycles and trick-or-treaters and dogs and radios played too loud too late.

We've chosen to be the older couple in a bustling neighborhood. As we toured with realtors, I kept an eye out for signs of life up and down the streets. Our new neighbors, who have no clue we're coming, sport a trampoline in their yard, and I heard dogs barking when we were there.

After being blessed and inspired by Russ and Kay years ago, we've got the lake house part down. My heart already looks ahead to making a home that our grandchildren will love coming to visit, where messes are made in the kitchen, and Papa lets little boys drive the boat or the mower, and star-gazing slumber parties are held on the sunporch or upstairs deck, and birding lessons are given while filling feeders in the yard, and neighborhood kids tell each other to go to the brick house, four down from the corner, where good trick-or-treats are given out, and the grandpa who lives there will tie june bugs to strings and let you build forts under the trees.

That will be a fine retirement indeed. The one I've been longing for since I was a little girl.


Jen said...

I just loved this. We had fantastic neighbors exactly like yours. I still have lunch with her at least twice a month...and we do dinner once a quarter.I miss them so isn't it funny how people come into our lives not even knowing they are touching us in some way....I hope I impact someones life like my sweet neighbors did with will be a great neighbor and already conquered the grandma.......

What happened to your sweet friends?

Gretchen said...

Yeah, whatever happened to Russ and Kay. I want to go visit them.

Agree with Jen--you've got the grandma thing down.

It's so amazing that we do indeed seek and build what we don't have. I see that even in how my husband and I found each other. I don't think I knew that at 15, but God did.

Sweet, sweet post.

Barb said...

My memories of Grandma Fanny are exactly the same. Her hair was snow white by the time I was born so I never knew her to look any other way. And yeah, she was scary.

Like you, she's the reason I'm bound and determined my grandchildren know the special place they hold in my heart. I think our grandmother loved us but didn't have a clue how to show it.

I know this retirement home on the lake is a dream come true for you and Don, one you worked darn hard for. I can't begin to imagine the two of you in a retirement community. You'll both always be young and you'll be a blessing to your new neighbors.

I'm tickled pink for you, and I can't wait to come stay in your guest house. Just can't wait to see this new home. AND my nieces and nephews. And their children. Sarah wasn't even married last time I saw her. Good grief!

Andrea said...

Wonderful post. I am so excited for you! I know it will be all you can imagine and MORE! :)

Paulette said...

I can see the amazing Grandparent trait in both you and Barb and your children and grandchildren are Blessed indeedy!!
It is no secret my mom was evil as the day was long but her mom from what I remember was a kind woman that I never saw but a few times. I have amazing children a 23 year old daughter and 18 year old son who I raised totally different than the abusive parents I had, and I look forward to being an awesome Grandma one day as well. I can't wait.
You will have such amazing times at the lake with your family as well, no great joy than driving full speed on a boat across the lake!! Also sitting out in the middle fishing, and lazy strolls on the pantoon boat at sunset!!
Did you ever get the sunset picture I sent you awhile back before your trip? If not let me know I'll send it again.
Your post was precious today Bev!

Renna said...

What a great post, Bev. You've inspired me to be a better grandparent!

Crystal said...

I love this post too!! I have fond memories of my grandparents (how blessed I was but didn't realize until now!), our parents have been wonderful to our children and I certainly want to be a presence for our grandkids.

Our 2 year old granddaughters are so precious and every moment with them blesses me as much as it is fun for them. Our 10 day old grandson will be part of the circle now too. I left my full time teaching job so that I could spend more time with them - and it's been the best decision ever!!!!!!!!!

Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts.