To Grandmother's House We Go

Our yearly trips to see Great Grandma have always been bittersweet. From the time the children were very young, we have told them to savor each visit, since the frail and feeble relative would probably be going to meet Jesus very soon.

That was four presidents ago.

Today, at age 95, Grandma has outlived two husbands, numerous suitors, and every major appliance in her house. And the only way she’ll meet Jesus is if he shows up at her nursing home with a deck of cards and some pocket change he doesn’t mind losing.

This year she greeted us with two questions: "Who are you?" and "Did you bring any beer?" After patiently explaining our identities (her reply: "Suit yourself"), we began the most important task at hand: cleaning out her purse. Aside from card-playing, Grandma’s other pastime is sneaking food from the dining room, which she apparently does just for sport, since she never actually eats the donuts and creamers that we find mingled with the rosaries, rubber bands, and old get-well cards from people concerned about her health. (Grandma always gets better and later attends most of their funerals.)

Grandma has lived in three nursing homes in the last 10 years, each change prompted by management that felt she’d "be much happier elsewhere." The real reason, of course, is that other residents don’t appreciate the little "whoop whoop" sound she makes every time she lays down her cards and reminds them that they probably shouldn’t have skipped their nap that day.

HALF THE FUN of visiting Grandma is staying with the cousins in the rural outskirts of this little town, where people say strange, rural-oriented things like "Can I borrow your bulldozer?" This year their teen-age son alerted his friends that two city girls were coming, and soon after we arrived we could see the dust rising from fast-moving vehicles in the distance. In a few minutes three pick-up trucks stopped in front and disgorged five teen-age boys with John Deere caps on their heads and big grins on their faces. Obviously, from a parent’s point of view, they could not be trusted.

They came to see my daughters, but you wouldn’t know it from their behavior, which consisted mainly of hitting each other repeatedly on the upper arms and arguing about which was better: Ford or Chevy. The discussion was a spirited one, with the Ford owners aggressively pointing out the superior qualities of their vehicle, and concluding with a short list of waste products that Chevy owners are full of. Chevy owners then substantiated their own claims, and pointed out that Ford owners, coincidentally, were also full of the same substances.

This went on for, oh, about three hours, the truck comparisons taking on a degree of specificity not generally appreciated by the lay person. Or teen-age girls, for that matter, who remained with the boys not out of interest in the topic—they had none—but because of some unspoken species loyalty. It was either that or go inside with the parents, one of whom was conspicuously peering out of the garage window.

Eventually the daughters came in the house (giving me barely enough time to run from the window and leap onto the couch, lest they think I was doing anything other than reading a magazine...upside-down). The girls eagerly informed me they’d been invited to "go muddin’." They explained that this meant squeezing as many young people as possible into the cab of a pick-up that then follows other trucks at high speeds down dark country roads until they find a muddy field, where they then drive around in circles in a display of rural-oriented fun. When they tire of this, the young people pass around a celebratory 12-pack of beer, which they consume before driving home.

I quickly gave my permission—why shouldn’t kids be allowed to have their fun, for gosh sakes?—the only stipulation being that a woolly mammoth must first come charging across a nearby field. My daughters immediately accused me of sarcasm (moi?), but in my defense I pointed out that the giant mammal was, in fact, indigenous to this area a few short millennia ago. A sighting was unlikely, but I felt there was at least a remote statistical possibility.

Of course, if a woolly mammoth did appear on the horizon, the girls would probably rush into the house for a camera to record the event for an award-winning science project. The boys, with similar fast-thinking, would quickly begin debating which vehicle could best out-run a woolly mammoth: Ford or Chevy.

Ed Spivey Jr., art director of Sojourners, drives neither Ford nor Chevy.

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