Thursday, April 26, 2012

In which Sly and Doris take the kids for a special treat

Remember how I told you about the summer we spent on my grandparents' farm? Did I tell you the part about how my grandfather rented a pony from the Amish so my siblings and I would have a pony to ride? Well he did. They might not even have charged him. He used to drive them to the doctor and other such things. Maybe they just lent him a horse to be nice. Or maybe not. Those Amish are capitalists. Which is fine with me.

There are a lot of Amish in that part of Wisconsin. It's not unusual to see a horse-drawn buggy on the road. Even more not unusual to see horse-drawn buggies in the parking lot at K-Mart in Medford. Then, if you go to the Amish grocery just off Highway 29, from which I have bulk spices that are almost 15 years old - when I bought them, I thought I was going to be using a lot of mace and allspice, but really, does anyone need a half a cup of that stuff at once? - you really see the buggies. Young Amish women, wearing their caps and their dresses with white aprons pinned to the front, run the store. You can get some good deals in there, but you have to know your prices. Just because something is in a plastic bag with a white sticker on it being sold by the Amish doesn't mean it's a deal.

Anyhow, my grandfather probably got a good deal on the pony because he was always doing favors for his Amish friends. My brother, sister, and I had a pony to ride for the summer, although all we really did was go in a circle while my grandfather held the long rope that he'd attached to the pony's neck. There was no galloping out through the hayfields.

That had to wait for when we visited my Aunt Mary and Uncle Hugh in Colorado. My uncle is a real cowboy. He grew up in Prussia, which is now part of Poland, on a farm with horses. During the war, his mother taught him to embroider. He embroidered the beautiful rose on my aunt's wedding gown. When the Russians came, they fled over the hill in front of the soldiers. He found some American soldiers and asked them for food. The cook told him they'd already eaten but he could eat what he could find in the kitchen. My uncle crawled inside the big soup pot and licked what remained on the sides.

He made his way to the US and worked on a ranch in Kansas. Put himself through college. Started buying land and horses in Colorado. By the time I was old enough to care, he had several horses. We lived in Texas, so would drive to Colorado to visit. Each visit included at least one horseback ride, which was about as glamorous a vacation as I could imagine as a kid.

I got to ride horses with my relatives. My grandmother taught me to make bread, apple strudel, and pie crust. I knew how to make pie crust from a very young age, which is one of the reasons I was so annoyed with Doris the time she tried to teach me how to make pie. I KNOW HOW TO MAKE PIE! And she didn't even do it right.

My other grandmother let my brother and me clean the bathrooms at the Shell station she owned. You might not think that sounds like much fun, but we thought it was cool. When we were done, the mechanics would pull a bottle of Coke out of the machine for us and hand it to us, icy cold. As my mom never had pop in the house, this was a special treat.

The station is gone, replaced by some other brand. The house my grandma lived in is gone, too. The people she sold it to smoked in bed, set the house on fire, and killed themselves.

Don't smoke in bed.

Granma Sylvia would also take my siblings and me to the Shopko in Marshfield, 35 miles away from her house, and give us each a dollar to spend, which was a lot, as we only got 25 cents a week for our allowance. On the way, we would say a prayer to St Christopher, a small statue of whom stood on her dashboard. St Christopher has been de-sainted. But we never had an accident. I say those results speak for themselves.

My uncles would take their teeth out for us. When you are six, that is high comedy.

My grandparents and relatives did cool things with us.

When Primo was a little boy, his grandfather taught him to play pool. He would visit his grandparents at their little retirement village in Florida and do grandparent things like go to the beach. He says his maternal grandparents - the ones Sly thought were stupid, uneducated, and unsophisticated and hence not worthy of respect - were the nicest people he had ever been around.

Now I am getting to the point of this story.

Guess what Sly and Doris did with their grandkids the other day?


What would be a fun thing to do with your grandkids who are home from college for spring break? What would you do with your grandkids whom you hadn't seen since Christmas? How would you form sweet memories that your grandchildren would later pull out of their minds after you were dead and say, "Oh I loved spending time with my grandparents! They were so sweet and so fun and they just wanted to make me happy?"

What experiences would you want to share with your grandchildren?

Here's what I would do.

I would know what my grandchildren liked to do and what they thought was special and then I would try to make that happen. If it were something extravagant or expensive, it might not happen exactly, but I would try to get close. Suppose my granddaughter wanted a trip to Paris. If I couldn't take her to Paris, I might suggest that we put together a scrapbook of things about Paris. Maybe have a Paris-themed movie marathon. Cook a French meal. Do something Paris-y and French.

If my grandson wanted to be a ball player, I would take him to a ball game. Go to the batting cage with him. Collect baseball cards.

Sly and Doris' grandchildren like basketball, bowling, listening to music, going to the beach.

They are not political activists.

They are college freshmen.

Sly and Doris took them to a lecture on global warming.

Which is pretty darn lame.

It doesn't even matter where you stand on the issue. I am not getting into a global warming debate. But taking your grandchildren to a lecture on global warming is dull, dull, dull.

Why didn't they just say, "Yes, we know you're on spring break, but we think you should still be in class, so we're going to drop you off at your old school for the day."

Or why didn't they say, "Hey! We've rented a bunch of documentaries about wood from the library! Seven of them!"

Or, "How would you like to spend a few hours cleaning the cat box and the bathrooms? For free? While we criticize how you do it?"

Sly and Doris = most boring grandparents ever.

What did your grandparents do with you for fun?


  1. My grandmother made tea parties for us on her back patio, in an area overlooking the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by geraniums that were taller than I was. Of course, I was only 4, so the geraniums didn't have to be very tall. Every year, they got smaller though; I wonder why.

    Every afternoon, after her hour of practicing the piano while I read, she would adjust the rickety umbrella for shade, set the teapot and cups on the rusty patio table, and pour us tea. Then we would play Authors, which is like Go Fish, but instead of collecting sets of aces, twos, and threes, we'd collect sets of authors.

    "Do you have Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott?"
    "I do not. Please draw. ... Do you have The Tempest, by William Shakespeare?"
    "Drat! I do! I was going to ask you for Romeo and Juliet!"

    Thanks to my grandmother, and blessed afternoons in the California sun, I can name four books each by 13 important authors.

    And her teapot, which she bought in Japan before I was born, is now among my most cherished belongings.

    1. Alicia, what a great game! I've never even seen it. What a cool baby gift that would make.

    2. We played that game when I was little! I've never known anyone else who's ever heard of it. They have a couple other similar games. I think a Scientists one. I looked them up on Amazon one time & they're still available. I was planning on getting them when Olivia is around 4-5. :)

  2. I think it's a credit to the grandkids that they went along with the plan.

    My grandmother likes it when I come down to see her and then take her to her favorite deli for lunch and gossip.

    1. Jen, they are very nice kids, even though Sly and Doris have nothing complimentary to say about their mother.

      My granma Sylvia loved the gossip - always bought National Enquirer.

  3. One of my grandmothers died when I was very young. One of my grandfathers died when my father was a child. We never lived close to family and never had vacations with grandparents. BUT I had an "Aunt" (actually my maternal grandfather's cousin) who was really cool, used to give me great books on my birthday, and had my sister and me to her cottage, only accessible by boat, where we could take out a little rowboat by ourselves, even sometimes with a little 1/2hp motor, and have vacations away from our parents. It was really special and I have never forgotten her.

  4. Just read through your entire blog over the last few days. Man, and I thought my sister's in-laws are bad! (Mine are just passive-aggressive*. My sister's are belligerent drunks.)

    Your writing is great. You do a good job of making the reader feel like they're there!

    As far as the book ending goes, the problem is that almost anything that results in the wicked in-laws never troubling the heroine again is going to feel like a deus ex machina. I don't have a good suggestion yet, but I will think on it some more.

    Looking forward to more posts!

    *I had a really difficult, lost 800 cc of blood difficult...and afterward, Mom came out of the room and was talking to my dad and my husband's parents, who obviously were not in there while I was pushing. She told them about the bleeding and the stitches and that I was fine now, and mentioned that it had been a scary experience. My MIL said ever-so-sweetly, "Well, maybe you shouldn't have been in there with her." !!!! (she was bitchy because she wanted to be in there, but EXCUSE ME, I do not need my MIL seeing me with my legs all splayed out. Or my dad, even.)

    1. Your MIL was ticked because she didn't get to be in the delivery room? OK. She's a bitch.

      I don't know how to solve the in-law dilemma. I think the transformation has to come from our end. Maybe a small transformation from Doris. Small.

  5. My paternal grandparents died before I was born, though I suspect I would have gotten to do farm- and baking-related things with them. I loved visiting my maternal grandparents' farm (before my grandpa died when I was 8). My grandpa would push us on the board swing he'd hung in a huge tree in the yard. The ropes were so long you had to be pushed to get going, you just couldn't do it yourself like with shorter playground swings. We got to walk up the road with my grandma to throw out the peelings and food trash that didn't go in the burning barrels. We played Chinese checkers and cards. My grandma let us dress up in her fluffy square dancing skirts and she taught us the fox trot in the kitchen, which sadly, didn't take. I am still a lousy dancer, and she is still an excellent one, and it's still a source of disappointment for us both. If we were very lucky, my grandma would take us visiting other older farm ladies from her church, who would say nice things about us and feed us homemade cookies. Sometimes we would put on long-sleeved old shirts even though it was hot and go picking blackberries in the woods. My grandma would tell us stories about when she was little, which I loved, and she would let us play with her lipsticks and jewelry, as long as we stayed at her vanity table and didn't take them around the house. She would always give us homecanned peaches as a treat, carefully spooning out two halves for each of us, and just the right amount of syrup, which was nevertheless not enough, because there is never enough homecanned peach syrup.

    1. We used to pick raspberries! Now I know why they are so expensive. And my granma canned apricots and pears, which I loved. I could drink that juice all by itself.

  6. You are killing me. killing. me. I am the youngest of 5 and we kids used to play pinochle with my maternal grandma. She used to cheat...all day long. It was hilarious. My sisters and I now play pinochle every Sunday with my mom and Dad, and we cheat, yell, and laugh.

    I feel your pain with your in-laws. Mine, also from Wisc, but now in Atlanta (warm visits is the only upside) have no relationship with our daughter. Their only grandchild. Who had cancer. No relationship. Need I say more?

    Love the Amish analysis.

    1. My grandmother played Sheepshead, which is a German card game. She used to play for pennies and was quite the card sharp.

      Your in-laws sound evil. Sorry.

  7. My grandmother always took her teeth out for me. I pulled and pulled on my teeth - they would never turn loose.

    I thought for sure I had duds for teeth.

    1. My dad's brothers used to do that! It cracked us up. I haven't asked for it in years, though.

    2. And I see that I already mentioned that in the story. Which you knew. Oh well.

  8. Such a wonderful read! Sorry about your Inlaws (a friend of mine calls them Outlaws) I have been blessed because mine are great and the greatest grandparents around. My FIL passed away 6 years ago, but my MIL is the most wonderful and supportive woman for me, and my girls have tons of wonderful memories of them both. Raspberry picking is one of them! My memories of grandparents are varied, my mother's mother was amazing (we shared the same birthday) but she passed when I was 5. My father's parents were very nice people but very proper, not much fun if you know what I mean. Although the visits to my Aunt and Uncle's farm in South Dakota (where I learned to bake bread and collect eggs) was amazing. Thanks for bringing those memories back!

    1. Diane, I think "Outlaws" is a perfect term and I intend to use it.

  9. My parents emigrated to the U.S. Four months before I was born. The maternal grandparents started making regular trips to visit once I was thirteen. So it was too late for any grandparental bonding there, what with the fact that I was already a teenager and their "children should be seen and not heard" mentality. The paternal grandparents never made it stateside, and that grandfather passed away before I went to Holland(six months of learning French in Grenoble, with side trips). My father's side of the family were all gathered in the matriarch's one-bedroomed apartment to meet me. She had been cooking for days. I was twenty, and shy, and completely overwhelmed. Especially by the very old, morbidly obese woman who could not take her eyes off of me. Your question hit me like a punch to the stomach and I finally cried when I realized just how much I and my siblings have missed out by hardly having any relationship with our grandparents at all.

    1. Oh, Joan. Your story makes me sad. Every child should be able to spend a lot of time with nice grandparents!

  10. Both my grandfathers died before I was born. My maternal grandmother ("Grandma") died when I was 5 and I really only have one specific memory of her, but I remember very well being told when she died, and how much I loved her. My paternal grandmother ("Grandmother") lived near us when I was little: Mom says she would read me my favorite stories over and over and over on demand without going crazy. I remember how she would always play with me, made clothes for my doll Margie (who nevertheless always ended up naked), and just was one of my favorite people ever. She died when I was 13, and while I have many memories of Grandmother, I don't remember her voice and I wish I did.

    1. See, that's what a grandmother is supposed to do - spend time with her grandchild doing what the grandchild wants to do.


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