As a little girl, there was always something to occupy my time when I visited the "Iowa Grandparents." After a long six to seven hour car drive, my sister and I were more than ready to unbuckle and tumble out of the backseat. However, it wasn't just the leg cramps and the seat belt marks we were trying to escape; it was the thought of being at Grandma and Grandpa's that really catapulted us.
If I wasn't rolling around maroon balls on the huge pool table in the basement, I would be digging through the best collection of dress up clothes imaginable. It was heaven for a little girl with a creative imagination. There were also games to play, the boards older than I could even fathom: Chinese checkers, some wooden, homemade marble game that I still don't know what the actual name was, "vintage" barbies, and a monopoly game with money and property cards that had been lost over the years recreated on cardboard. But better than the game itself was a grandma that would sit down on the floor and play it with me.
We would walk to the Park Store with Grandma, rarely to get a treat, but rather to wander its aisles and be by Grandma's side. We would then meander over to the park, at the heart of the small town, and swing and slide until we were too worn out to do anymore. After a quick but hearty "dinner," it was off to visit my great grandmothers at the nursing home in town. I didn't realize then how lucky I was to know my great grandparents, but I also didn't realize how lucky they were to have my faithful Grandpa and Grandma visit them daily. Family takes care of family. After eating Andes mints in Grandma Huisman's room and staring wondrously at Grandma Schoon's earlobes, it was back to the yellow house for more unadulterated play time.
If one of my 83,234 cousins was not around to order me around/play with me, I would have my pick of the dress up clothes and hats. I would wiggle my pudgy young body into a beautiful pink, lace dress and find cream colored gloves that I could have fit both my fists into. I would struggle to get my fingers in the proper places, but finally could wiggle all ten with the correct material moving in correspondence. I would then affix a hat to the top of my curl covered head-- of course it did not matter if the hat actually matched my outfit, for cohesive outfits did not matter at Grandma's house. Having been sufficiently draped in necklaces, I would grab the bottom of the skirt, typically 2 feet longer than necessary, and traipse upstairs. I would stand in the kitchen and announce my presence, preparing my audience in the living room. Loping around the corner I was lucky if I didn't trip over the bottom of the dress, or the heels on my feet that were a woman's size 9, but my onlookers never cared if I stumbled. "Oooohs and Aaaaahs" were heard from all directions, and as I curtsied and turned to go back downstairs I was trailed by my grandparent's applause.
After several displays of beauty, I would saunter back up to the living room and curl up on the couch next to Grandma. I tried to listen to the adult conversation but my mind would soon wander. So I reached for the side table by the couch and quietly pulled open the drawer to retrieve one of my favorite toys: white and blue sand trapped between two oval shaped pieces of plastic. I could swirl and twirl it to my heart's content, occasionally showing Grandma my masterpiece. I'm sure it looked like nothing, just pieces of colored sand intermixing, but she would smile and quietly reassure me of my sand picture talents. She would then quietly reach over and grab my hand and rub each finger and joint. All of my life I know I will never find anyone else who can give a good rub like Grandma.
When supper rolled around it was all hands on deck. Kali and I would help set the table, while mom and grandma masterfully twirled around in the kitchen. Once we were all gathered around, we would bow our heads and in his solemn, distinct, and low voice, Grandpa would begin the Lord's Prayer. "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name..." The one sure way I can summon the sound of his voice to this day is to listen for him saying this prayer. We'd say our "amens" and pass the meal, being sure to get the perfect amount of butter on Grandma's perfect homemade bread. Kali and I were careful to not squirm or sing or goof around at the table: the Schoon's greatest rule. After the devotion was read from "Our Daily Bread," it was time to clean the table and head off to our baths.
Grandma would help us scrub behind our ears, as she had perfected over years and years of so many children and grandchildren. We would dry off and, clean pajamas over our fresh skin, squeeze toothpaste onto our brushes. I always wanted to use Grandma and Grandpa's, thinking it was a very special and expensive kind, saved only for the best people in the world. It was a wonderful turquoise gel with a minty flavor surpassed by none. It wasn't until I was quite a bit older that I realized AIM toothpaste was a bargain buy, but to me it will always hold special powers.
With damp ringlets around our faces we would say our goodnights and pass out kisses and hugs and then Grandma would follow us to the back bedroom where the three of us would pile onto the bed, covered in a quilt made of dresses of the past. We would squeeze in close so we could hear her sweet, northern voice as she read to us from the pages of books that were older than we were. We learned what would make Harriet the hippo smile, and would echo in unison that one should "NEVER TEASE A WEASEL!" Then with kisses and sweet back rubs, Grandma would slip through the doorway.
Inevitably our time would end and we'd say our goodbyes and pile back into the car. As we pulled out of town, my mom's tears always confirmed that we were leaving the presence of goodness, and that this place was, in fact, very special.
Years later, after Grandpa had said his last "Hallowed be Thy name," Grandma was still pouring herself into her family. Even though she could no longer make her famous bread, or get on the floor to play games. Even though the remnants of the dress up clothes were spread far and wide amongst family and the pool table had passed on to the next generation. Grandma knew she could trust the hands that led her blind eyes because she had spent time cultivating them to be trustworthy. Though her love was a bit more tired, it was still there. She would still reach over, with a tremulous hand, and rub mine. The last times I visited her I could physically feel her cherishing the goodbye hug and kiss as if it may be her last.
Though she had to spread her love out wide, it was never spread thin. At her funeral there was evidence of so much love and faith throughout many generations.
Thank you Grandma, for letting me use your toothpaste and encouraging my creativity and reading to me and rubbing my hands and praying. So much of who I am is because of you.