Every summer since my son was born, and some before that, we spent a couple weeks working on giving them a taste of the best parts of my childhood. I wanted them to know these people and this place that gave me so many wonderful times, and had been home for as long as I could remember.
"We're going home," she'd say, when her friends or co-workers asked what Mother's plans were for the weekend. And if my Mama thought it was home, I guess I assumed it was for me too.
She was right.
I was brought home from the hospital to the guest room in that house on the hill when I was born, as was my sister. Before that, Mother and Daddy were married in the living room, a formal place that went largely unused other than Christmas day. As for that, let's just say the house lasted far longer than the marriage had any hope.
So many summers I spent with Nanny and Grandad while Mom worked extra shifts in the big hospital in "The City," which is what everyone I knew called Oklahoma City. Playing in the backyard, roaming the enormous front yard, rolling down the slope from the top to the bottom drive, splashing in my wading pool, playing on the coolest swingset ever... those before my father figured out that he could demand I go to his house for the summer were the sweetest summers. I rode my bike all over that place... and refused to speak to Grandad when he took the training wheels off my Strawberry Shortcake pseudo-freedom. I still remember so vividly his hand on the back of the seat, one on the handlebars with the promise that he wouldn't let go down in that huge front yard. Almost the instant I trusted him, I turned around to say, "Hey, this is pretty cool!" and you can guess what happened. He'd let go long ago, allowing me to fly across the yard on my own.
The house was a wonderland in itself for a little one. There was this shag carpet that ate, I swear, all my barbie shoes. There was this hallway that went on forever, with only night lights to break the darkness even in the day. I remember starting at the beginning of that hall, running as hard as I could, sure something would jump out and grab me if I slowed. Once a scorpion got me while I was tearing back there to see Nanny in the dressing room. Those little suckers hurt!
Then there were the mornings Nanny and I would walk to Doris' beauty shop to get her hair done. Usually we'd walk. If it was raining or too hot, I guess, we'd get in the "big brown car" and drive down the twisty driveway, just a piece down the road, and up the dirt road to the little house next door. On the rare occasion they had someplace to go where a little girl couldn't be happy for the evening or the day, I went to her best friend's house to play. I still have pictures of cakes and things Ava made me for my birthday.
And camping... oh, camping. We'd pile in that old F-150 and follow the Good Sam Club wherever. One of the life lessons Grandad taught that I still use with my kids I learned while sitting atop a pile of books between them in that old truck. I'd read one, raise up, stuff it under, grab another, and sit down. I think it was on the way to Sardis or Tenkiller when he said, "Crystal, we take you so many neat places, and you're missing it all with your nose in those books."
That's why we don't have a video system in my van.
Some of the closer lakes, and the farther-away. I spent many an hour fishing with Grandad, pretending to crochet on my Cabbage Patch Kids lacing cards while Nanny and her friends did their crafty stuff in lawn chairs between the trailers, swimming, and of course, eating. Holy cow do I miss banana pudding.
But not more than I miss those times and of course those people.
Those summers faded into the distance with the frustration of spending summers in Kansas. My summer adventures were replaced with fear and boredom, the love of being the only grandchild hidden in my heart with an escape route I was too scared to use.
So we went, when my kids were little, to recapture some of that and make sure they remembered my Nanny and Grandad. Things had deteriorated, including their relationship at that point, but they were still there. There were still tiny flickers of the things I so loved. Not the least of which was the fact that she adored my babies and doted over them just as she did me.
They got to feel her loving hand on their backs as they sat in her lap at the table.
They got to hear her laugh. How I miss that laugh!
They got to taste her food, and of course, eat too much banana pudding.
They got to swim while she watched on from a lawn chair in a wading pool.
They got to go to the Runestone and play on the playground.
When she left us and Grandad deteriorated, it made me so sad to think they might not remember. But I promised her. I promised, through uncontrollable sobs, the hour before she died, that I remember everything she taught me. Not the least of which was that these little ones before me will not stay little.
So we play, we try to remember to see things through their eyes, and we work on giving them good memories. But sometimes I can't help but wonder if they remember her.
The other night, I asked Richie. Just randomly, while I made dinner, if he remembered my Nanny.
"Yes! I remember the big house and playing in the little pool in the back!"
For some reason, all I could do is hug him and cry.
I guess the real reason I asked Richie, who was just two when she passed, was because I was afraid of asking Ryan. His communication issues would likely hinder his sharing. But lately, I haven't had to ask. He's told me. Over and over, he's told me. And I know that he remembers and misses them.
"You want to go to the house on the hill, Mama?"
Me too, sweetie. Me too. You have no idea how much.
Thanks be to God for the memories in the house on the hill.