Traverse City Record-Eagle


August 27, 2012

Garret Leiva: Camp Grandma

When it comes to unconditional love, grandmas are moms with lots of frosting.

Our daughter is excited to savor a whole week of sugary-sweet Grandma C. and Nana L. What better way to spend the days before school then at Camp Grandma. It's only fitting that she gets a healthy dose of grandmas since she was sick all last week.

Overall it's the job of grandparents to overindulge and undercut; as in cookies and parental rules. My wife's parents, both retired teachers, rarely resort to using their school voice with the grandkids. Grandpa no longer hands out discipline slips, just loose change — even for subpar behavior.

Hearing our daughter talk about grandma-related sleepovers awakens thoughts of plastic-covered furniture and PB&J sandwiches.

My nana was born a Bertha. She hated her name. As with other things that displeased her, she changed it; in this case to Betty.

She was a fiercely independent woman, although she never learned to drive. It was a carryover, like her accent, from her life in New York City.

Nana was funny, headstrong and clipped articles from the National Enquirer. She was not a cookie-baker grandma. She did, however, keep a well-stocked metal candy dish. I could not lift that lid without setting off a pre-dinner alarm.

She kept plastic slipcovers on the furniture but never worried about dirty-fingernail grandkids. Her closets smelled of mothballs. They were filled with elegant formal dresses and hats worn a lifetime ago with Papa.

Nana's black-and-white TV pulled in three channels. On nights my sister and I stayed over, without fail, we'd watch "The Lawrence Welk Show." Nana loved her accordions, floating bubbles and "Wunnerful, Wunnerful."

I also recall a plastic cigarette we would sneak inside Nana's pack. Unfortunately, lung cancer proved all too real.

My grandma was named Esther. She was a saintly woman who baked sinful cookies. She also kept any burnt toast on a plate by the kitchen sink. I never understood why, but it seemed to speak of Midwest sensibility and frugalness.

On rainy days, Grandma and I would play UNO or pick-up sticks. She never cheated — even at Go Fish. She'd also let my sister play records; usually Elvis albums left behind by my uncle.

Grandma never raised her voice, unless she was calling you in for lunch from out weeding in the garden. She expected washed hands folded in grace. The fruits and vegetables on the dinner table changed with the seasons. You could, however, count on peanut butter, butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread — and sinfully good cookies.

There will come a day when our daughter is left with only grandma-related memories. I hope they're not merely sugar-coated reminiscences but heavily frosted.

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