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The best gift that one can give a child is the gift of a loving grandparent. It’s easy to buy toys but to spend quality time with a grandchild is far better.
Patty, like you, I did not know either of my two grandfathers as they both died before I was born. When I arrived my father was away in Europe, fighting in World War II. My maternal grandmother, Lora, moved in with my mother. Her second husband had died and she had not met her third husband. This meeting was to occur about the time my father returned. My earliest memory is going with my grandmother and Pap to get their marriage license. I recall their wedding, that took place in the living room of our small house. I was not yet two years old and the people were like tall trees talking and laughing above me. When the time came for the newly married couple to leave, I ran screaming after their car, saying I wanted to go too.
I do not have grandchildren but I recall clearly the time I spent with my maternal grandmother, Lora. Both of my grandmothers lived within a 7 mile radius, but only Lora spent quality time with us. “Mam” as we called our paternal grandmother was withdrawn and only spoke to us when she wanted us to do something, or more likely stop doing something that was annoying her.
Grandma Lora made each of her eight grandchildren feel special. Several years ago at a family gathering we were talking about her and how we had loved to visit in the summers. My sister said “I think I was her favorite because......” Then a cousin said “Oh no, I thought I was her favorite because she always did ......” I am still sure to this day that “I” was her favorite grandchild, for she took care of me when I was a baby and I learned to walking holding onto her fingers.
When school was over for the summer my sisters and I would draw straws to see who would be the first grandchild to spend a week with Lora. There was a sense of freedom about being there—and a sense of being pampered and spoiled. She would cook our favorite foods, and tell us stories about our mothers (or father in the case of my uncle’s children). They would not have been “perfect” children but rather little rascals who got into trouble. My own mother had run away from home and had almost fallen into a creek. She had been kicked unconscious by a mule. My uncle had skipped school constantly. My aunt had a bad temper and often broke cups by throwing them on the floor—an action that led to spankings. She would tell us “You grandkids are so good” implying that our parents had not been “so good”.
Lora lived near a small town (we lived in the country) and often people would drop by to buy eggs from her. She and my step grandfather, Pap, had cows, and chickens and a pond where they fished. There was a large garden where they grew corn and peas, and other fruits and vegetables. I would help pick peas or shuck the corn.
In the mornings I would follow her into the chicken yard and shells ears of dried corn for their feeding. Later we would go into the hen house and collect the eggs. These were the eggs that Laura sold to neighbors for what was referred to as “egg money”. She kept it tied in the corner of a handkerchief. The sale of a dozen eggs brought in twenty-five cents.
In the afternoons we would sit on the wide front porch and watch the traffic. People would slow down and wave or toot their horns. We would each pick a car color and count how many of that color would pass in thirty minutes. The loser would bring the winner a bowl of ice cream. I ate a lot of ice cream at Grandma Lora’s house.
Lora had a beautiful flower garden surrounding the front porch. I learned a lot about flowers by listening to her as she took care of them. I can still tell you where the various flowers were located in her yard. If it hadn’t rained during the week, we would drag out the green hose and begin watering. She frequently left me with this task while she went to milk the cows. Everything had to be done before Pap came in from work so that we could eat our supper.
At week’s end, my parents would appear to take me home. I would cling to my grandmother and protest that the week had been too short. She would hug and kiss me and slip a quarter of her “egg money” into the pocket of my dress.
My own mother, when she became a grandmother, maintained the tradition of having the children come for visits in the summer. Since we all lived in distant cities, she would often have them visit in groups of three. Her house was in the country, five miles from three equally small towns. Behind our house the land sloped down to a small stream, a stream that was so small it often would dry up in the hot summers.
When I was quite young, the property behind the house had been a garden and a peach field. By the time my own son was visiting with his grandmother (my father had died when I was in college) it had grown back into a thicket. My mother kept a wide path cleared down to the stream and the woods. She delighted in taking her grandchildren, and neighborhood children, into these woods. She would point out the violets and Jack-in-pulpits in the spring, the minnows in the stream, the little frogs and the delicate ferns that grew on the stream banks. Sometimes she would walk a ways into the woods and talk about the tall oaks and pines that grew there. There was one very special tree in the woods that she would pause under— a tree with a heart carved in its bark. A heart that surrounded two sets of initials—hers and my father's.
Last Christmas when our extended family met for our gift exchange, my son and his cousins began to talk about their grandmother and how much they had enjoyed these walks in the woods. How exciting it had been to be in a tall, dark forest with a grandmother to hold their hands and tell them stories of past generations who had farmed the very land they were walking upon. "We must never allow the tree with the heart on it to be cut" they said. "One day we will want to take our children there to see it."