I saw my 94 year old grandmother yesterday and today will have Thanksgiving dinner with her at my aunt and uncle’s house, although we are doing things a day early. At 44, I reflect back on the many blessings of having been close with my grandparents, particularly when I was young. Here are some thoughts:
My parents wisely made sure that I spent time with their parents despite the geographical distance between California and Wisconsin. From the time I was five years old, they put me on an airplane to spend an entire summer month with my grandparents and extended family. Likewise, many Thanksgivings and Christmases were also spent with this lovely company.
For someone with divorced parents this was a rare treat, as I was able to witness marriages still in tact. I was also enamored by the fact that my grandfathers went to work while my grandmothers stayed at home. To me this was a thrilling arrangement that meant children didn’t have to go to daycare and delicious dinners of pot roast or pork chops would be served every night instead of just on weekends. It triggered my deepest fantasies that until this time had only been fostered by watching shows such as “Leave It to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy.” I remember being seduced by the smell of bacon and coffee wafting down the hall lulling me gently awake on my first morning with my grandparents. These were not smells I identified in my own home on weekday mornings. For one thing, neither my father nor mother drank coffee. They both preferred Coke and Diet-Coke instead. And there simply was no time to cook breakfast in the morning before my mom went to work and I went to school. Eggs and bacon were something I tended to get for dinner instead. For breakfast, my mother often gave me a Twinkie or Ding Dong because Hostess Treats didn’t require any cooking. Later when I got older, I made myself oatmeal, which I liked very much because it was hot, creamy and supposedly “Old Fashioned.”
I loved old-fashioned things. In both of my grandparents’ homes I would gaze longingly at the china displayed in hutches and sterling silver tea sets displayed on fashionable tea carts. I would help polish the silver to keep it from rusting and as I rubbed the cream into the silver with a cloth, I would eventually see my own reflection looking back at me. I loved that extra sets of sheets and linen were kept in hall closets and I would spend hours playing in the attics and basements of each respected house pretending I was Nancy Drew. Likewise, the architecture in Wisconsin was so different from that in Southern California that I would stare out the window as we drove along Lake Mendota to the University where my Grandpa Porter worked at UW Madison as a biochemist and fantasize about which houses I wanted to live in when I grew up. I loved the Tudor style homes best. I told myself I would eventually live in Madison and would be a writer and professor there.
Those summers in Wisconsin were incredibly idyllic. My dad’s parents both grew up on farms so they kept a huge vegetable garden out on an actual farm. After dinner we’d often go work in the garden. Well, they would work while I ran through the cornfields, sang songs and did lots of cartwheels. Then we’d clean up afterwards and go to A & W for a soft cone.
There was always activity going on in my grandma’s kitchen. She made her own jam, Ketchup and applesauce and froze and canned the surplus produce, which in addition to vegetables included raspberries, cherries, peaches and apricots. I would often take jars of things down to the cellar after we labeled what was in it and put a date on it. Sometimes Grandma would name something after me like what came to be known as “Lise’s cherry jam”.