I could hardly wait to see Grandma and Grandpa again. All summer long it would be just me with my own bedroom and my own bathroom; not having to share with my sister or brother was the best part of all. Grandma spoiled me and made me feel special. We went everywhere together. In El Paso, Texas, the hot summers stretched on for months. Grandma often stopped for ice cream on the way home from running errands. On one such stop, her wrinkled lips encircled a straw to welcome a refreshing strawberry milkshake. Unfortunately, all my licking efforts were not fast enough to keep the ice cream in my cone from dripping onto my bare legs. My knees squeezed together as I watched the goosebumps surround a Neapolitan splatter. The side view mirror reflected an image of me with ice cream dripping from my chin. “You look like a billy goat,” Grandma said. She laughed and handed me a napkin,
Everything was fun at Grandma's house. We ate dinner on TV trays in the living room and watched Mash with Grandpa, who'd served in the military for many years. Grandma taught me how to sew a dress, and how to knit a scarf. I helped her make doll furniture for her many paying customers. I even made a round bed for my doll, which made me the envy of all my friends back home. We picked peaches and figs from the trees in the backyard, and Grandma taught me how to can them. Of course, I ate some too.
Grandma always showed kindness and compassion to me and to others. When Nasha, her Spanish speaking housekeeper of many years came to clean house, Grandma often gathered canned goods and placed them in a grocery sack for her to take home.
“I never had nothin' growing up,” she said, “but I always swore if God blessed me with my own house that I'd share whatever I had with anyone who needed it.” She kept true to her word, and I never forgot to follow in her footsteps.
Even when I did something wrong like dumping the peas on my plate in the garbage when her back was turned and lying about it. Of course, she spotted them in the trash, but I knew she still loved me. Forgiveness was never far away. At home, my parents were always too busy to spend much time with me. Grandma kept me by her side. I used to dream about running away to her house, but I'd hear her common sense inside my head telling me otherwise. Besides, how was I supposed to get there? If I got caught, my parents would just bring me back home, and I'd get in a heap of trouble.
Spending the summer at Grandma's house was almost like heaven to me. She welcomed my desire to go to church. My family wasn't much in the way of religious, but Grandma nourished my desire to know God better. We went to church all the time, and she gave me my first Bible. When I asked questions about God, she answered them. I dreamed about having a family that went to church together. She accepted me no matter what I did or what I said. She corrected me and taught me right from wrong. I felt I could be myself around her. That summer I grew up a lot, both physically and spiritually.
As our time drew to a close, we went on a fun trip to play in the dunes at White Sands, New Mexico. Grandma taught me how to bargain with the merchants at the market place in Juarez, just across the border. I purchased a white blouse with embroidered flowers. When it was time for me to return home, my grandparents gave me a goodbye party at the church. For this festive event, I decided to wear my new blouse with yellow, bell bottom, hip huggers that snugged against my hips, evidence of the few pounds I'd gained over the summer. A large safety pin provided the needed extra width, as I struggled to secure one side to the other. Picking up my suede leather belt, I sucked in my tummy and pinched the leather end tight as I worked it through each pant loop. This allowed the beaded fringe to hang down the side.
That looks cool! I thought.
When it was time to leave for the party, my grandparents scanned me up and down, and then looked at each other. I thought Grandma was going to tell me to change clothes, but she didn't say a word. Instead, she gave me the gift of unconditional love by accepting me in this awkward stage of my life. That one special summer was the last time I spent with my grandmother. I think fondly of my time with her. And when I do, I remember it like it was almost heaven.
This story is dedicated to my grandmother, Mary Estelle Van Vorst.