Wednesday, May 7, 2014

At Grandmother’s House

I grew up in a military family. My dad received orders to move us, lock, stock and barrel, every three years like clockwork. Before we moved we made a trek from wherever we were to Louisiana and to Georgia to see our grandparents. These visits were so vastly different, one place and one family and one lifestyle to another that it always made the trip interesting even for a kid that was furious she was leaving her friends (hard won, I am not a social butterfly)  and her school (which I always loved, no matter where it was) and her home (incredibly important, that sense of home) yet again.

We would go to southern Louisiana and eat crawfish, play with deadly animals, listen to good music, smoke Picayune cigarettes down by the river under cover of massive live oaks dripping with moss and generally run free and wild with our cousins. My grandparent’s house was tiny, the cousins were too many to count and the spaces outdoors so inviting and untamed as to make staying indoors a ridiculous notion. We were wild Indians, little heathens, crazy animals and every other thing people called roving bands of dirty, smiling kids and we loved it.

From there we went to Georgia, to a house not much bigger, also out in the country but so ridiculously different as to slam our headlong rush of gaiety and abandon into a massive stone wall (quarried and built by my father and grandfather’s hands).

While my Louisiana grandfather still worked a bit, my Georgia grandfather had retired literally from his job onto his back porch with his bourbon and Fresca and the Braves on the radio. His goal was to keep us quiet so we didn't bother my grandmother. 

My grandmother liked the concept of children, of having a family who adored her, but the reality of it was too much for her to deal with. Kids were dirty, noisy, always wanting something and in general a pain in the patooty, especially 8 of them at one time. Her furniture was covered in plastic. For me that summed her house up, sterile, stiff, unwelcoming. We stayed outside there; playing in the woods, riding the horses which the grands had ‘liberated’ from a neighbor whom they felt didn't care for them correctly. This fact, that they stole horses, was the only thing that gave me hope that they were more than they seemed which was a cranky inebriated couple of unwilling old folks, doing what societal dictates told them they had to do.

My mother somehow grew into a glorious grandmother. She was always welcoming, inviting, open-minded, loving. Not a single grandchild, and she has a ton of them, would say a bad word about her.  She didn’t cater to them. She certainly knew the word ‘No’, but she loved them. They were always interesting to her. She could talk to them, play with them, and feed them with love. The candy jars were full, the Disney movies beckoned, the badminton net was set up close to the big swing in the yard where she would sit with her children, their parents, and watch the kids be fun and free and wild and happy. She and my father ended up in the cold stone house in Georgia but while they were there it brimmed with emotions, with people, with family history being retold and made anew.

Now that I am a grandmother (Many times over, number 13 is due this fall) I find myself trying to emulate her. I have a candy bowl, which is the first thing the kids and their parents hit when they come over. The Disney movies stand piled haphazardly on the cabinet holding the TV and the video games. Yes, I WILL do Wii dance with them, and try to kick their butt at bowling too! We bought a house with a pool and huge porches out in the country. We both like to swim but our first thought on seeing this place was family memories that last forever can be made here. We encourage the kids to play outside, to run in the woods, to find deer tracks and worms under rocks and bird’s nests in the trees. They can use our computers and read our books and nap in the guest room if they want. These little people mean the world to me.

I can’t help but think how sad it is that my own grandparents didn't get to know my brothers and sisters and I. We were cool kids. Kids are funny and smart and loving and beautiful in form and mind.