Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Days with my grandmother

Growing up, I used to spend a lot of times with my grandparents. They always lived within a few miles of  us, so if my folks needed a place for me to stay overnight, it was off to my mom's parents. I have random memories of sleeping in their guest room, on a pull out bed that had to have been a couple decades older than me. I wouldn't call it worn out, but I could definitely feel the support bar under the mattress. Most nights my grandmother, or Mom-Mom as I called her, would cook dinner for my grandfather. The house would always have the same aroma when she was working in the kitchen, no matter what she was cooking. Some nights, my grandfather, or Pop-pop, would take us all out to the Fish House. I feel like that must have been their favorite restaurant, because I don't remember them eating anywhere else. It was pretty old even then, with worn floorboards and pictures of local personalities all over the walls. The food was always delicious and plentiful, with my order of fried shrimp heaped high on my plate. As much as fun as I had with the both of them, I think it's the days I spent with Mom-Mom that I enjoyed the most.

It was around 1990 or 1991 when my mom decided to go to nursing school to become an LPN. She would work the night shifts, come home for a bit to make sure I was ready for school, then head off to school herself. I honestly don't know how she didn't go insane from lack of sleep. Then there were the days where I was either sick (or faking it!), or I just didn't have school for whatever reason, and she didn't want to leave me home alone by myself all day. In those cases, it was off to Mom-Mom's house.

One of the best things about sick days at my grandparents' house, was the fact I could catch the late morning cartoons I would have otherwise missed. Most of the time, that meant old G.I. Joe re-runs, since the new episodes played in the afternoon. Once the cartoons went off, it was time for my grandmother's shows. I look back fondly at all the time I spent watching The Price is Right and Days of Our Lives. That's right, I watched soap operas and enjoyed it! I may not have grasped all of the plot lines, and had a little trouble following what was going on, but I still found myself captivated by the stories.

If I didn't feel like watching daytime TV, then I was on my own when it came to entertainment. I'm not even sure my grandparents owned a VCR, so they definitely didn't own any sort of video game system, not even for their favorite visiting/sick grandchildren.

Most of the days I went to Mom-Mom's, I would bring a plastic tote filled with action figures. Sometimes it was G.I. Joe. Sometimes it was TMNT. Sometimes it was both. The living room couch would become my battlefield with its big, fluffy cushions that made perfect action figure sized canyons and hills. Sometimes the fights would carry on over to the table next to my grandfather's recliner, or the shelves that held their books and satellite receivers. My grandmother put up with all of this, never telling me to quiet down, or stop. In fact, I think she kind of enjoyed watching me play.

On the days I was allowed to go outside, I usually left the toys inside. I made the mistake of taking some action figures out to play on the woodpile, and I lost Xamot (or Tomax) to the depths. I tore that pile of wood apart, and I still couldn't find my favorite half of the Cobra twins. Normally, I would entertain myself by picking and eating the wild strawberries, or chasing frogs in the creek near my grandparents' house. Sometimes I would go into my grandfather's work truck, a delivery van that he turned into a mobile shop, and pretend to drive it around. There were so many levers and buttons in there, that I could keep myself busy for hours. I'm surprised I never managed to kill the battery in that thing.

As much as I enjoyed watching late morning cartoons and turning the living room into an action figure minefield, my favorite part of the day was lunch time. Sometimes my grandmother would fix me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which was somehow more delicious than any I could have made. Most days though, I was allowed to make my own lunch, and it almost always consisted of two things: Ritz Crackers and Easy Cheese. If I was feeling particularly adventurous, I'd add some ham or American cheese to my little cracker sandwiches. I would sit at Mom-Mom's dining room table, drawing faces on crackers with cheese in a can, enjoying an ice cold glass of Lipton Iced Tea. If you've never had it before, it came in a cylindrical can, and you would scoop it into a pitcher of water until you had the right mix. It was just the right amount of sweet and tart, and I always loved the way it made my teeth feel squeaky after drinking a glass.

Once I was done eating my lunch, it was time for a snack. Looking back, my grandparents' cabinets seemed like such a magical place to me. There always seemed to be boxes of Little Debbie cakes, or packages of Fig Newtons up there. It was like the land of Narnia, but instead of lions and witches, it was full of individually wrapped baked goods. While I had free reign with the Ritz Crackers, I was limited to how many of the snacks I raided. Though I used to like to think they were just for me, they were probably for my grandfather's lunches. I'm sure he loved me a lot, but even I couldn't blame him for getting made at me for eating all the Fig Newtons. My personal favorites were the Zebra Cakes, because I liked to make a game out of eating them. I would try to eat them without biting through the chocolate lines. That might last for a couple of bites before I would give up and just eat them normally.

After lunch, if I didn't feel like playing with my toys or watching TV, I would sit in Mom-Mom's wicker rocking chair and read their copy of "ABC's of Nature". I was fascinated by this book, and I would look through it almost every time I came over, even if it was just for a short visit. Other than encyclopedias, I had never seen so much information in one place. It covered everything from the anatomy of a glacier, to the organisms that lived in the deepest parts of the ocean. It did all this in the form of questions and answers. For example, one question might be, "Why is the sky blue?", and there would be a paragraph explaining the how and why. It was by no means comprehensive, and a lot of it is probably outdated, but it sure beats lugging around a set of encyclopedias. I'm not quite sure why my grandparents had that book, seeing as how I never saw either of them reading anything other than the newspaper. Maybe they new they'd eventually have a grandson that would be enamored by it.

I could usually tell when Pop-Pop was about to come home, because it was right about the time Super Friends came on. I always hoped that he would be a little late, because I wanted nothing more than to watch Superman, Batman, and their buddies beat up on some bad guys. Once my grandfather took his shoes off and got his evening drink, it was time to turn the channel to The People's Court. Admittedly, I always enjoyed watching the People's Court, it's just that I enjoyed watching cartoon characters beat each other up even more. Still, it was his house, and his TV, so I was out-ranked. Once Wapner was done presiding, I knew my mom would be along soon to pick me up and take me home. Then it would be off to school the next day, since playing sick in order to go to Mom-Mom's two days in a row would mean a trip to the doctor's office.

Those days all seem like a dream now. It would only be a few more years before my grandfather would pass away from cancer. A couple of years after that, and my grandmother finally had to move in with my mom, since she was having a bit more trouble getting around, and had never learned to drive in the first place. Their house was rented out a couple of times, but it was eventually torn down by the new owners of the property. You can barely tell it existed now. Just a couple of months ago, my grandmother passed, 20 years and one month after my grandfather. It's still a little weird not to see her when I walk in my mother's house.

I often say I would do this or that if I could go back in time, but right now, I'd just love to be able to spend one more day and Mom-Mom's house.


  1. Beautiful memories. Sorry to hear of your loss. I always imagine my own kids having these same type of wonderful memories in their futures when I bring them to my parents house.

    1. Thanks Eric. I always count myself lucky that I was able to spend as much time with the grandfolks as I did.

  2. Wonderfully told story, my friend. I got misty eyed reading the end! We often view our grandparents as supporting characters, but I loved this because it put them in the spotlight. Grandparents always seemed to swoop in at the right time and make a big, but undercover, impact on our lives. Thanks for telling your story - it made me remember some of mine too.

    And my grandmother ALWAYS had Little Debbie Zebra Cakes for me too! What gives?!

    1. Thank you sir, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It just saddens me that there is so much that I've forgotten, but at least I have this little bit written down.

      I still don't know how my grandmother kept so many snacks in stock. I can't remember there ever being a time when she didn't have any.

  3. Man,I got a little choked up reading that,Chris.Grandparents were like the Jedi Masters who pulled rank over our parents.My "abuela" grandmother memories include watching alot of spanish television.She used to have one of those old cable boxes with the attached remote http://i.imgur.com/cQD1p0L.jpg I would start at channel 1 and work my way up to the last channel real fast just to see the pictures change and to here the little noise the channel selector made lol. She always had coffee on but that was for the parents.Packets of EQUAL sugar littered the kitchen counters.Sadly all my grandparents have passed ,but the memories haven't.Anyways, great post.

    1. Thanks Tony. I'm glad you liked it. Funny you mention grandparents pulling rank. There were a couple of times I was with my grandfather, and I mentioned how much I liked something. When we'd get back home, he'd claim to have forgotten something, and ran back out to buy it for me. That's how I got my first bike, and my first swing set.


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