Over the river, through the woods and into the heart

August 23, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

It is August, and the kids will be at Grandma and Grandpa's for a week -- a family vacation in the truest sense.

Grandma and Grandpa have time with their grandchildren without the inhibiting middlemen that parents can be. The kids escape the two well-meaning adults who constantly try to mold them into good citizens. And my husband and I glimpse again that gossamer memory of our courtship.

The kids have been going to Pittsburgh every year since they were babies. To a Grandma grateful that her daughter-in-law trusts her with them. From a mother who can't decide if she is more grateful for the break or for the bond that forms between the kids and their grandparents.

By now the routine at Grandma's is set in stone. Joe and Jessie share a double bed in Uncle Danny's old room. There is a TV with a remote control, and, each morning, cartoons are at their fingertips until their stomachs growl.

In the kitchen, Grandma is making whatever they want to eat. The ultimate short-order cook. Sausage and pancakes for breakfast. By noon, there will be kielbasa and sauerkraut or "sewer pipes," Grandma's rigatoni. For dinner, there will be mountains of snow-white mashed potatoes for Joe and all the gravy he can pour.

For a week, my children do nothing. There are no chickens to feed or cows to milk at this Grandma's house. And though their grandparents fret that they should cart them to museums or carnivals or to see the dozen cousins who dot the landscape around Pittsburgh, the kids never want to leave the house. The cocoon of quietude, love and food is what they crave for this week.

Jessie spends her time clomping around in Grandma's high heels and talking her out of another handful of exotic costume jewelry. She raids the fridge for the makings of an ice cream sundae that Grandma buys in anticipation of her arrival. Poor child, she will never find maraschino cherries and marshmallow sauce at home.

Joe makes pilgrimages to the mall with Uncle Kenny for a slice of pizza, a pack of baseball cards or a movie his mother won't let him rent. Uncle Jeff gives Jessie rides in his red Corvette and sits for tea parties with the ancient dolls Grandma keeps for her.

Grandpa sits still while Jessie styles his hair and peppers him with questions. He chortles softly at everything she does and says. He will say a thousand times before the week is over: "That Jessie is really something."

The children go to Mass with Grandma, and all her Irish friends exclaim, "They are such angels in church" while Grandma smiles as if lighted from above.

At home, things stay where I put them. I fix the screen door -- again. For a week at least, it is not punched by a hundred little hands. I clean out closets, sort clothes for school, rent a movie, read a book. I call Grandma's every day, but my kids are too busy doing nothing to talk long.

At the office, my husband, who has too often fled for home after one of my agitated 6 p.m. phone calls, works an unencumbered day and then announces that he is going to meet his wife for dinner. We talk for 10 minutes about world affairs, and then we talk about the kids. We decide we would be workaholics without them.

When we arrive at Grandma and Grandpa's to take the children home, every stitch of clothing is washed and packed, and their faces are fuller, rounder. Grandpa slips them $3 each to spend on junk at "Breezewind" on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

"They are good kids. You are doing a good job with them," Grandma whispers to me, and nothing she could say pleases me more. But aloud she says, for their benefit, "I holler at them. They don't get away with anything just because they are at Grandma's."

Joe's grin lights up with devilment, and we all laugh. All but Jessie, who turns her head into my chest and weeps softly until Grandma and Grandpa's neighborhood is far behind her.

This has been their ritual for all these summers. We follow it like a script. Someday, they will not want to go to Grandma and Grandpa's. It will be boring or they won't want to leave their friends.

But for now, I think to myself, this is why I had children. So they could go to Grandma and Grandpa's for a week in the summer.

To hear Susan Reimer read one of her columns, call Sundial and punch in the four-digit code 6156. See the SunSource directory on Page 2A for your Sundial number.

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