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.