grandparents

Our Epic October Trip (Part 1: Texas)

Sometime around mid-May, I mapped out a trip on my computer. Things were starting to open back up again, restrictions were being lifted due to the increasing availability of the vaccine, and I wanted to get the HECK out of town.

At first, it started as a crazy idea. A whirlwind. Practically a tour—if we were a small indie band just starting out. But when I laid out the plan for my mom and sister, they were in, without hesitation.

So, we booked it. Five flights (which would turn into eight by the end due to connections and layovers), four states, and almost two full weeks’ worth of vacation. We booked it for October, which, at the time, felt like it was forever away.

But then, on Tuesday October 20th, as I clocked out of work and drove home, I realized that we’d finally made it. Our flight to Texas was at 9:30 the next morning.

I also realized I should probably finish packing.

Packing, to me, is like chess. I try to make everything fit perfectly, in the most neat and organized fashion, and I aim to wear every single thing that I pack. I pack as if you could “win” packing. As if someone will be waiting for me when I return home and hand me an award. But then, while I’m actually on the vacation, I tend to inexplicably hate most everything I pack, and so I impulsively buy an emotional support sweatshirt, which makes my suitcase bulky and unorganized, thus I have to unpack it immediately upon arriving home or I will spontaneously combust.

Other than that, I’m a pretty chill traveler.

I know the lay of the land. I’m the one who has the flight number on hand and will check our bags and print our boarding passes. I’m the one who has a miscellaneous assortment of snacks and drugs (i.e., Benadryl, Dramamine and Advil) in my purse. I am a mom traveler—alert, prepared and with no time to take any shit, and I thrive in that environment.

The purpose of this trip was mostly to visit family. Since we hadn’t seen hardly anyone throughout the whole of 2020, this was practically a revenge vacation. It was our chance to see everyone and everything that we missed—plus a few fun bonuses along the way.

Our first stop was Dallas Fort Worth, where we were set to visit our surrogate grandparents, Jim and June—who I wrote about in this post.

If I’m being honest, it was the stop I was most nervous about.

In years past, my mom, sister and I had taken multiple trips a year to Arkansas to visit my great aunt Evelyn and Jim and June, as well as my cousin Brittney and her family. Arkansas was (and is) our happy place. It was where we found we could truly relax. It was a home away from home—the “home” sometimes being interchangeable in a way that we were at times unsure where we belonged more. A few years ago however, aunt Evelyn passed away. She hadn’t been doing well for a little while, and we’d been visiting as often as we could, staying with Jim and June whenever we were in town. The last time we were there, it had been for Aunt Evelyn’s funeral and June worried that we wouldn’t come back.

“You’ll come back and visit me, won’t you?” she asked us.

Us four girls always had the best time together. Sometimes I felt like we were a little bit too much for Jim, but he was always a good sport, going about his routine while we sat around talking and giggling for hours.

“Of course, we will,” we said. But no matter how many times we said it, I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t believe us. She had no idea how much we loved her. How fondly we spoke about her back home. How quickly we wanted to come back every time we left.

Since we’d last seen them, Jim and June had moved to Texas to live with their daughter Shannon, since it was no longer safe for them to live on their own. And while we were excited to finally see them, we couldn’t help but wonder what toll the move and the past two years had had on them. Selfishly, we wanted them to be exactly the same, to be everything we remembered so this visit wouldn’t be hard or sad. But no matter what we were walking into, we wanted June to know that we’d kept our promise, for her to know that we’d made it back to her as quick as we could, and to tell her that we loved her.

On Thursday morning, after spending the night at our hotel, we drove over to Shannon’s house to spend the day with them. Upon walking in, it was clear that June had lost a lot of weight and was struggling with her vision, and if Jim recognized us, it was only in short, silent waves. But that didn’t stop us from finding those moments of laughter, of reminiscing, and talking about everything we could think of, just the way we used to in their little house in Arkansas.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, I was so excited to see y’all,” June said as we sat on the couch beside her. My heart swelled.

It had been my Grammie, my mom’s mom, that first met June all the way back in first grade, and they’d always kept in touch, even when Grammie moved to California with her family. As a result, for a long time, for me, June was just a character I occasionally heard about in stories. But then, when we started visiting Aunt Evelyn more frequently, June became a real live person. And after Aunt Evelyn moved into a care facility and we started staying with Jim and June, June became our person.  She became like a third grandma to me and my sister, and a connection to my Grammie for my mom.

So as we sat in Shannon’s living room, talking to June, I couldn’t help but think about that moment in first grade, when June and Grammie walked to school together, not knowing how far this friendship would take them. Thinking about it, I felt like Grammie was in the room with us, along with Aunt Evelyn, each of them sitting in an empty seat on the couch. I ached at the thought that one day June would be sitting with them rather than us; when they will all just be characters in stories I tell my kids one day. But as we got ready to leave and June hugged us each twice, I knew that she’d always be real to us—always be close by, and always be a piece of home that I’d hold on to, no matter where I ended up.

“I love you,” she said as we headed out the door.

“We love you too,” we said.

“You’ll come back and see me, won’t you?”

“Always.”

91 Birthdays and Now I’m Counting Too

This past weekend we celebrated my grandpa’s 91st birthday.

It was a happy day filled with good food, lots of sunshine, and a big reminder of the many good things (and especially good people) I have in my life.

The most important person of the day, the ever handsome, ever lovable birthday boy, pulled up to the party in one of his most stylish (and one of my favorite) Dodger themed button down shirts, some nice pants, and a pair of shades. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but look over at him, sometimes catching him looking at me, maybe to wave or stick his tongue out, and wonder how he was feeling.

When asked how he is doing, his go-to answer most days is that he’s doing okay. He says he feels old, and on some days, on especially good and sassy days, he’ll slick his hair back and tell you he feels oh, just as wonderful as ever. And while I know there are lots of hard layers to his answers—that he’s tired, his knees hurt, he misses my grandma, he’s not sure how much longer he wants to stick around—there are also good ones—he’s proud of the family he’s built, he’s always excited to hear what we’re up to, and he’s curious to see what another day holds. Still, I can’t help but feel like there is so much I don’t understand and can’t understand until I (or IF I) am lucky enough to reach the age of 91.

It’s hard to believe that I’d have to live the life I’ve lived twice more to reach my grandpa’s age. And if I do, it’s hard to comprehend how much I will see and learn and experience in that time. Not to mention, how different the world (my world and the world at large) will look in 61 years. It’s startling and overwhelming, but also inspiring because it makes me realize how much life my grandpa has lived.

I would consider myself very lucky to be sitting in a backyard on a Sunday afternoon 61 years from now, looking out at a family I built, and eating a cake they made just for me. And I’d like to think in that moment I’ll think of my grandpa. I’ll think of how perfect the weather was at his 91st birthday and how lucky I felt to be a part of it. I’ll remember the sound of the excited chatter and the laughter and the clinking of drinks. And then maybe I’ll look over at a certain granddaughter or grandson who I catch looking at me and I’ll stick my tongue out.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa

It was a Saturday afternoon, right when the Camarillo breeze started to creep its way through the trees, when my dad pulled up in front of my grandpa’s house. We made sure not to park in front of the mailbox—that was one of grandma’s biggest rules—and then we open and shut our doors, carrying in some groceries, the mail and most importantly, lunch, up the pathway to the front door.

I stood on the porch, peeking through the black mesh of the screen at my grandpa sitting in his chair, as I waited for my dad, who was a few steps and a free hand behind me, to open the door. That’s when I saw a sign taped to the wall.

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“Ding dong!” I yelled.

“Well, hello there,” my grandpa said with a laugh. “I see you like my new doorbell.”

“I love it,” I said as we walked in.

He smiled.

Growing up, I was told by many people—frequently—how much they loved my grandpa.

Howard is the best.

Howard is my favorite.

Your grandpa is truly one of the best men I’ve ever known.

As I got older, these compliments were passed down to my dad.

Your dad is the best.

Your dad is my favorite.

Your dad is truly one of the best men I’ve ever known.  

And then to my brother.

Troy is just the best.

Troy is my favorite.

Troy is one of the best guys I know.

While nice to hear—albeit annoying at times because, like, don’t you know how great I am?!—it wasn’t new information for me. It was no secret I was growing up surrounded by incredibly strong, kind and caring men. To be honest, it kind of ruined me. Because if I know there are men like them around, why waste my time with anything less, you know?

My grandpa taught my dad who taught me (and my sister and my brother) how to love. How to care for people and make them feel like they matter. He taught us by reminding us that we matter.

In college, when I studied abroad in Australia, my grandpa sent me postcards and letters, giving me a sense of home when I was scared and needed it most. And to this day, whenever we get together as a family, my grandpa always goes out of his way to ask each and every one of his grandchildren (and children and great-grandchildren), “What’s new?”

When I think of my grandpa, I think of love. Of joy and fun and safety. I think of the mini donut holes he always had out on the kitchen table when my family moved in with him and my grandma.

I think of going to Dodger games, of eating hot dogs and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and of the time my cousin Spenser was wildly booed for popping a beach ball that was being passed around, because my grandparents knew the usher and didn’t want her to have to chase it—which he never did again, by the way.

I think of sitting around in he and my grandma’s living room with one arm leaning on a cousin, the other on an aunt or an uncle, and my legs propped up on my brother’s shoulders as we all sat close and opened presents on Christmas Day.

I think of going to the mall during the summer to walk around, just so we weren’t cooped up in the house, and how occasionally we would convince grandpa to buy us a blizzard from Dairy Queen.

I think of bowling on Thursdays, watching golf on Sundays, and eating pizza on Friday nights after sitting in the bleachers at my parents’ softball game, learning how to keep score next to my grandma. (When someone would ask who was winning, my grandpa would either say “good guys” or “bad guys”—monikers I still use to this day.)

When I think about these things, it’s no wonder why people go out of their way to tell me how great my grandpa is. But oftentimes I wonder if they really know how great.

It takes a special kind of man (and a badass lady partner in crime) to raise the kind of family I grew up in. And it would be one of the greatest successes of my life to find a partner worthy of our traditions and to raise children with as much kindness and compassion as was given to me.

I can only hope that one day I have grandchildren looking at me the way we all look at you, grandpa—and I hope I’ll stick my tongue out and make them laugh the way you’ve done my whole life.

We’re so very lucky to have you by our sides—and there are a lot of us, so that’s a lot of sides, but you still manage to make each one of us feel just as important and cared for, and I pray we make you feel that way too.

Happy (one day early) birthday, Grandpa.

.

P.S.- Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone I’m your favorite.