Thursday, July 28, 2005


Snapshot: It's noontime. The sun is hot in the sky as the adventurers set out on their maiden voyage aboard the S.S. Orange Paddleboat. They have been planning their voyage throughout their week-long stay at the lake, along with their trusty officer of the galley. The sailor's rations, artfully packed in a Marsh brown paper grocery bag include two ham sandwiches, a bag of potato chips, two bananas, two cans of Sunkist orange soday and Grandma's reknown chocolate chip cookies. The sailor's each carry with them on their vessel their own fishing nets and their own tiny green bucket to entrap any wayward miniature painted turtles (which they will undoubtedly name "Myrtle" and keep as pets for a day or so before releasing them back into the land from whence they came). These sailing journeys were Grandma's idea, for Grandma understood adventure.

Snapshot: It is evening in 1980. The sun has set and it is the light blue of twilight on the lake. Cicadas and crickets are chirping. Citronella candles have been lit. We don't dare turn on lights in the cottage, as mosquitos would soon feast on us for supper. The summer Olympics is being aired on televisions all over the world. Everywhere, people are huddled in tiny groups watching this pinacle of the childhood sporting year. Everywhere, that is, except our cottage on Chapman Lake where even a teeny-tiny black and white television has yet to be introduced, as Grandpa doesn't want to spoil the rustic nature of the cottage (I mean, geez, we actually had put in a bathtub and shower the year before we were getting a little too civilized if you asked him). Two cousins lament over their pitiful and isolated state on this the first night of the opening ceremonies. Grandma creates the Chapman Lake Olympics which are performed on the six by eight foot arena of carpet between the couch and the recliner. There are only two countries, the country of Adam and the country of Christen. Grandma is the judge and gives surprisingly generous ratings as we each execute difficult hand stands and cartwheels. She often gave 8's and 9's. She was much more lenient than the Soviet judge. Grandma understood creativity.

Snapshot: It is raining. Again. For the third day. Two children are trapped in close quarters. Again. For the third day. Did I mention it was raining? Grandma busts out the Monopoly game. A game which ultimately lasted for two more rain-filled days. Sunkist orange cans and Monopoly money were strewn across the dining room table. When it would come time for meals Grandma would say, "just scoot it over, children. We'll eat around it." I think that's how Vermont Avenue got that blueberry stain. Grandma understood endurance.

Snapshot: I'm eleven and sitting on the floor at Grandma's feet. She's sitting in the recliner in front of me. My parents have just announced they'll be divorcing. Grandma's quizzing me, an only child herself. "And you feel okay about living with your Mom?" "Yep," I mumble. "And you're sure you know how much you're loved?" "Yep," I repeat. "And you know you can always come to the lake with us if you want?" "Yep." "And you know this is all for the best?" "Yep. Really, Gram, I'm fine." She is quiet, sizing me up. I keep watching her face as she rocks slowly in the recliner. The chair creaking softly with each downbeat. "That's right," she finally says, "You are fine." And gestures me toward her where she pulls me onto her lap and rocks me, even though I am practically as tall as she is. "Just fine," she murmurs.

Snapshot: It is nineteen years later. I call her one night in Florida where she is staying for the winter with Grandpa. My father insists. I don't want to call her because I don't want to tell her my news. I'm getting ready to divorce the man that only four years ago I stood up with in front of a church of over 300 people and promised to love for the rest of my life. I am embarassed and ashamed, afraid of the judgment of others. But I promised my father I'd call. Dad had said, "Call her...she keeps asking me what's going on with's like she has some sort of sixth sense...she needs to hear it from you." I call her and tell her my story, mumbling occasionally and swallowing tears. She is quiet and then she says simply, "Well, I'm glad that's all it is, Honey." Granting me the grace I couldn't give myself. Grandma understood unconditional love.

Snapshot: It is late at night on the lake and it is hot. I am in college and I am visiting for Grandma's birthday. I have brought her bedroom slippers shaped like rabbits, and the wiggle their ears as her feet bounce up and down in the reclining chair. Grandma and I sit on the front porch and watch the lights across the lake. We tell stories--silly stories that don't even bear repeating and probably include some sort of bawdy humor related to bodily functions and we both howl with laughter. But Grandma's laugh is loud enough to carry all the way across the lake. Grandpa shuffles out from the bedroom sleepy-eyed and tells us we need to be quieter. "Okay, Herman," Grandma says. Grandpa goes back to bed. As soon as he's out of earshot Grandma turns to me and winks, "Spoilsport," she says. And then she laughs even louder. I will remember that laugh as long as I live.


Chris said...


I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face reading these wonderful glimpses into your relationship with your grandmother.
I'm leaving next week for a few days in Vermont (from Virginia)at our family "camp" as they say in New England. A cabin that has been in our family for 60 years. Going back to it after my grandmother died 15 years ago was the hardest thing I ever did because she and the camp were one. It was even named the Bea Hive (she was Beatrice). But as a family we have continued to gather there, summer after summer to our lives today and to share memories of her. One of the uncles even put a carved sign on the wall that says, "Would Grammie Bea approve?" that helps guide us with our behavior there. Again, no television... not even indoor plumbing. We have a wonderful outhouse and take our baths in the lake! She did finally consent to electricity a few years before she died.
You write beautifully and I was so moved by these memories. Thank you for sharing.
Chris in VA

Contemplative Chaplain said...

Thank you, Chris. I'm glad it resonated with you. I love the Bea Hive name. I'd love to see pictures of your Vermont home if you post them. Blessings,

Phil said...

Christen, you pay fine homage to a unique bond you had. I'm sorry for your loss.

BookishKnitster said...

Thank you for your snapshots of Grama "Dot the Pot". Tears stream down my cheeks with your stories and thinking of my memories of time shared with you and Dot.

"The Quiet One" or was it "Bashful"?. . .