Originally published in the Oologah Lake Leader on July 2, 1987.
The road to a friend’s house is never long. Well, grandparents in our family are certainly considered in the friend category. I can only surmise that the person who came up with that not-so-truism never drove Highway 69 South to Texas in one sitting. The lack of feeling in the old gluteus maxi will quickly dispel any idea that it is a short trip. However, the creature discomforts are quickly forgotten on arrival at the destination. It was the same for me when I was a kid.
For me, the arrival at my grandma’s came at the end of a long bus ride from the High Plains of West Texas to the black lands of Dallas County. The visit to my grandma’s house was of indeterminate length, to be concluded by either terminal homesickness or the blooming of the cottonwood trees and the inevitable asthma attack that followed.
There was no need for TV, fancy amusement parks, or expensive summer camps and organized sports. Instead of spending lots of money to pass the time away, I spent my time painlessly learning things. The education was so subtle that it was not until years later when I needed some little skill or piece of information that I realized the things that my grandmother had taught me.
One summer, we planted a garden. I learned about feed and seed stores and how to select seed corn. We cut up seed potatoes and I learned about the phases of the moon and about almanacs. I learned that you pulled Johnson grass roots completely or it was all to do again. I learned to get up early because it grew hotter as the day progressed, and that when the day grew too hot that there was ice to crush and sweet grape juice with lemon to make the work cooler.
It seemed kind of sissy-like at the time, but I learned about hems, buttonhole makers, and how to sharpen scissors. My grandmother taught me about scalding milking utensils and how to churn butter and strain clabber with cheese cloth. In her old-fashioned kitchen, I learned to sprinkle sugar on top of the peach cobbler crust, to shell peas and peel juicy peaches. It was a time to reinforce the lessons taught to me by my parents and to see the expanding world a little more clearly through my grandmother’s old-fashioned rimless bifocals. It was a time that no amount of money could ever buy and no way can it ever be recaptured. It was an experience that can only be felt between grandparent and grandchild. It is priceless time of only a few years at best.
Has anyone noticed how quiet it has been around the house lately? Daughter has gone to spend some time at her grandparents’. When I telephoned to see if she was missing her parents just a little bit, I was told that she had gone to feed the goldfish at the park with her grandmother while her grandfather aired up her bike tires.
Right now, she may be just a sticky giggle fueled on Popsicles, but she will soon come back to us a starched and ironed third-grader and much wiser about her new world. Thank you, God, for grandparents.
-by the late James R. May