Or My Maternal Grandparents and Where I Spent My Summers As A Child…
My grandparents had a small farm in the middle of nowhere in Upstate New York. Every summer I was shuttled off up there because my mother thought that the fresh air would do me good. Unfortunately, I was allergic to every damn thing up there and would break out in massive hives and would wheeze a lot. This freaked out my grandmother. She didn’t know how to deal with sickly, let alone allergies, and I was determined to play with every animal I was allergic to anyway…
My grandmother was very German. Very strict, very upright. A no nonsense woman. I like to joke with my cousins that I was such a good kid that grandma only ever threatened to spank me. I heard she was lethal with wooden spoons. When she came to the States, she didn’t know a word of English. She locked herself in the house and watched TV until she was fluent. That’s the kind of woman she was. She wore white gloves to check that you dusted well enough. Everything had to be done right. She would never talk about her family back home or her past.
My grandfather was very square. Literally. He was on the short side, stocky, very muscular. Not a bit of fat on him. Very earthy man with big square hands. He was a farmer through and through. He came from the mountains of Russia and was exiled. When he was forced to leave, he wound up in Germany where he met my grandmother and, somehow, they wound up in America. He spoke a few languages, but refused to speak Russian. He wouldn’t talk about his family or his past either. He old cry if I asked him and I couldn’t bear to hurt him like that. He’d be through war and was traumatized. That much I knew. He would sometimes refer to it in flashbacks. He had Alzheimer’s.
My grandfather had this amazing innocence about him. He was wonderful with children. He had all of the patience in the world with them. He would play games and tell jokes and tease. He had a silly wheezing laugh that I still hear in the back of my mind and his hair reminded me of dandelion fluff. He was all emotion and my grandmother was all reason. They made a good team. He adored her and often told me I was his favorite grandchild.
The farm is no longer in the family. My grandparents are long gone. But I always share stories about them with my cousins who didn’t get to know them before they passed and my kids who never got to meet them. I wish I could take my kids back to the farm and point out different places and tell the stories that go along with them. The time my cousin put the chicken eggs in his pockets and fell on the stairs, smashing them all. The hay loft my cousins would jump down from. Where the swing set used to be. How the smell of rain, dirt, and hay always brings me back there. The little frogs and salamanders I’d catch and play with. All of my memories.
I guess the fresh air did me good.