I have one of those grandmothers that looks like she came straight out of a children’s book. Rosy cheeked, indelibly sweet and, without fail, always in an apron with a warm dessert tray in her hands. She is the quintessential grandmotherly figure.
For most of my childhood, I lived far away from her central Kansas home, meaning I could only bank on Christmases together (we were lucky to see each other maybe once or twice more than that throughout the year). When I was 9, my family moved back to my dad’s hometown, and for the first time, I lived close to my sweet paternal grandmother. Talk about a kid’s dream come true!
For those three years, we lived just one block away from each other. Her house was everything a grandma’s house should be. Knickknacks lined the window ledges. A school bell collection was displayed prominently in a shadow box on one of the living room walls. Doilies accented the end tables, coffee table and credenza.
Grandma had (and still has) the ability to make the simple things seem special. Marathon runs of I Love Lucy or multiple hands of cards were pleasant ways to pass the hours side by side. Grandma had an open door policy, which meant my siblings and I were always welcome to stop by unannounced—and we took her up on it!
When I was 12, my family moved again, this time just north of Kansas City. The idea of leaving Grandma behind was unthinkable, so we asked if she would consider moving with us. She agreed, and my parents built her a house next door to their own. Being next door provided her the privacy and autonomy she needed, but also meant she was just a few steps away.
Until her mid-70s, she walked a couple of miles a day and worked at a Hallmark retail store. On her days off, she enjoyed taking day trips. A handful of times she invited me to join her on one of her “gravel road adventures.” For people my own age, driving is usually just viewed as a way to get from point A to point B. But to my grandma, driving is the good stuff, the journey just as important as the destination.
We would head out of town and quickly veer off the beaten path; she preferred country roads to highways and interstates. Sometimes without a clear destination in mind, other times with a small town, lonesome cemetery or historic site the end goal, we would drive. I never could figure out how she knew where she was going, since she didn’t own a GPS and rarely used a map when charting new territory.
Now as a married woman with three children of my own, I don’t have the opportunities to visit my grandma like I did when we once lived next door to one another. Grandma lives on the other side of the city, more than an hour’s drive away. She no longer works but instead fills her time volunteering at a local hospital and extending hospitality.
When I make the trek back up to visit, car fit to burst with children and baby gear, I survey the land once we get out of the city limits. Cornfields on my right and pastureland on my left, I know Grandma would have much to say about the land that a city girl like me couldn’t comment on. When we get together, our conversations center on how much the kids have grown, on how extended family is doing and, occasionally, we’ll reminisce about old memories together. My 1-year-old will coo and babble at our feet, happily playing with the same blocks that were once pulled out for me to play with as a little girl.
I’ve come to realize the greatest gift my grandmother has provided me, both as an adult and as a child, is that of perspective. Going to Grandma’s was fun not because what she provided was new and flashy but because it was warm and familiar. We didn’t need to go seek out new forms of entertainment to enjoy one another’s company. Being together was the gift. She has taught me that, much like those day trips spent together jostling down old gravel roads, the day in, day out journeys of life are to be enjoyed as much as the big occasion milestones.
I hope my boys will have the privilege of storing up many memories of times spent with their storybook great-grandma, and that times with their grandparents—hearing their stories and connecting with them—will teach them precious life lessons. And one day, way off in the distance, I hope that when my children are grown and married and have children of their own, I can provide that cozy over-the-river-and-through-the-woods home that is warm and inviting.
Lauren Greenlee lives in Olathe. She and other parents blog at KCParent.com. Join the conversation today!