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This grandparent thing (01/16/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

I baby-sat my four-year-old granddaughter the other day while her mother was at work. We started our day with a bowl of cereal — she had two — and then had several hotly contested games of Candyland. I found out she doesn’t like to lose. In fact, she has figured out how to arrange the pile of cards we draw from to ensure that she wins. She puts the card that advances the player to nearly the end of the game on the top of the pile, and then announces, “I get to go first because I’m the youngest.” All out in the open, no subterfuge here. When on the third game, I announced “I get to go first this time because I’m the oldest,” she was not happy. “But I want to win,” she said. “So do I,” I said. So I went first, but had not put the trump card on the top, so we were playing by chance, as I’m sure the game designers intended. She won. Hope there was a lesson there (for her, not me!).

Then we did errands, which included going to the optometry store for new frames for me. While we waited, I asked her if she wanted to try on some of the glasses frames for kids. She picked out a pretty pair of pink ones — her favorite color. As she was looking in the mirror, an elderly gentleman waiting for his own glasses said in a loud voice, as sometimes is the case with elderly fellows, “I think it’s terrible when they put glasses on young children!”

I didn’t quite understand his logic. If a person needs glasses, isn’t it a good thing to give them glasses so they can see? But my granddaughter heard him, and was suddenly shy about trying on any more frames. I had to stand between her and the old guy so he couldn’t watch her. I certainly hope she doesn’t remember the incident if it comes about some time that she actually needs glasses.

Then we went to drop off some used batteries at the county Hazardous Waste building, to the cleaners to drop off some clothes, to the drug store, and by then it was lunch time. I offered to buy her a lunch at a fast food place, which she usually thinks is a great treat, but to my surprise, she announced she’d like to have lunch at my house. “All I have is peanut butter and jelly,” I said. “I love peanut butter and jelly!” she said, so we were on our way.

My mother and John’s mother were good at being grandmothers to little kids. But I don’t have the memories of their grandmothering to compare myself to. I do remember my own grandmothers, though, very clearly.

My Nana, who lived in Nebraska, we saw probably once a year, unless she came for an extended visit. She was an educated woman who had made a name for herself as a public speaker, and who could recite poetry and read stories like no one else. She was also a specialist in fudge and divinity, which she taught me to make many years ago, but which I don’t.

Grammy was from Ireland, and spent her days in the kitchen. We lived within driving distance of Grammy, and I was invited to stay for the weekend on a regular basis. Friday was baking day for Grammy (she died kneading bread on a Friday in August). Friday night was grocery shopping day for my family, and we drove all the way to Ayer, where my grandparents lived, to combine grocery shopping with a visit to my father’s Ma and Pa. Often, when the family station wagon headed home to Framingham, I would stay behind, either alone, or with one of my cousins who was around my age.

If I was staying alone, I got to sleep with Grammy in her bedroom. Grampa slept in the room at the end of the long, dark hall, from which emanated snoring sounds that in the darkest night sometimes sounded like a lion coming at us from the jungle. If a cousin was there, she and I would share the big bed in the “front room,” which we one time broke by jumping on it.

Then in the morning, if it was winter, we ran downstairs (no heat upstairs) and snuggled in behind the big black wood and kerosene cook stove to get dressed. Grammy always saved a little bread dough from the previous day, which she fried up like little pancakes and served with butter and syrup. On a really lucky day, she would have made doughnuts the day before and we got to eat the doughnut holes. In the summer, we were sent outside to play in the big yard, which ended at a pond where we could fish or throw pebbles or float makeshift boats. No swimming in this pond, because it was too weedy. Then it was either a nap, or when we outgrew those, a “rest” either on the screened porch or outside in the hammock, where we could read. When the rest was over, she made egg nog for us because it was “healthy.” We played until it was time to watch out the side window for Grampa to walk home from work for supper.

I’m not sure how well I stack up against my grandmothers. I don’t recite poetry. I don’t make candy. I don’t make bread every Friday. I don’t make doughnuts or egg nog. I am going to get a hammock for the summer months, however. And my peanut butter sandwiches must be good enough. She ate the whole thing. It must be the organic peanut butter and all-fruit jelly.

Whatever my credentials in my job as grandmother, I will tell you that grandchildren seem to automatically be wonderful at their job. It just comes naturally to them. 


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