> I was an only child and and only grandchild on my Mom’s side for my first 13 years. I like to think I wasn’t spoiled, but, frankly, I was probably terrible. My father was in the military, so we moved all over the place. My parents were both from up-state New York. We tried to visit their old stomping grounds at least once a year; more often if we happened to live a day’s drive away. Most of my childhood was spent in the northeast.
I adored my mom’s parents. They lived in an old farmhouse on a busy highway. They also had a barn and a cottage on their 3 acres of property. The house itself had been remodeled by everyone who had ever owned it. It had been a house, a set of apartments, an inn and a restaurant by the time I was born. Because my grandparents had lost three of their four children, I was never given free reign to explore. I always wanted to go into the barn, but that was too dangerous. Frankly, I don’t think I ever actually went more than 3 feet into that mysterious building. I couldn’t run free on the property because there was a well that I could have fallen into and a huge, Huge lilac bush that had bees that could have stung me. I was scared spitless of the cellar in the house, so I didn’t want to go there, but because of the boiler and the pile of coal that Bumpa had delivered each year, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed there either.
With all of the restictions I had imposed on my movements, you might wonder why it was so fun to visit. I will tell you, most of it had to do with the fact that Mamie played with me. Once I was old enough to sleep in a bedroom away from my parents (I was about 5 or 6), I got to sleep in a big (tall) antique bed with Mamie. She complained every morning that I had kicked her black and blue, but she never expected me to sleep alone. In that special bedroom that I came to think of as mine, there was a tall chest of drawers filled with every hat Mamie had ever owned. In my mom’s old closet hung Mom’s old prom dresses and band cape. I spent hours playing dress-up. The dresses were not long on an adult, so on me they didn’t seem overly big to me. They were full of flounces and lace. I felt like a princess, especially when I got to use Mamie’s jewelry, too.
Other fun activities involved Mamie’s huge kitchen. Knowing that I loved organizing things even as a child, she would mess up her pantry before I got there and then ask me if I wanted to organize it for her while I was visiting. I always felt like I was doing her such a big favor. She was really the one do me the favor.
When we visited during warm weather, I would help Mamie in her rock garden. She would tell me the names of the flowers and show me which plants were weeds. The west side of their yard was filled with wonderfully tall trees. One in particular had, through a quirk of nature, grown with a cavitiy near the ground. It was a perfect pretend oven. Mamie saved aluminum tart pans for me and together we’d make mud pies filled with wild flowers and then bake them in that tree. Often, I’d put a “pie” in the tree and forget about it for the rest of the visit. The next time I arrived, I would run out to the tree and sure enough, there was a very done mud pie waiting for my return.
Bumpa mowed his big lawn with a tractor. He would let me sit on his lap and “steer.” That was so much fun. He also kept a pair of binoculars in the kitchen and together we would watch squirrels and bird frolic through the yard. Bumpa was completely enamored of trains and loved to share his passion with me. He’d talk to me as though I were a grown up and include me in his discussions.
I always felt so important when I visited my grandparents. They were completely interested in everything I did, said or accomplished. I have letters that my grandfather wrote to me that to this day make me laugh. He later developed Alzheimer’s and by the time he died, he didn’t know anyone. I didn’t get to see my grandparents much after I got married. They were in New York and for the most part, I was in Washington. I am so grateful for those precious years of my childhood and the sweet memories I have.