Thursday, June 26, 2014

Childhood Revisited

"You guys didn't really take many family vacations when you were growing up, did you?" my husband asked me once, several years ago, while we were flipping through old photo albums.

I had never really thought about it before, but he was right. We went to the beach a couple of times, but never anything beyond that. There were no trips to Disney or educational forays to Williamsburg or long treks across state parks.

It's not that we couldn't afford it, although I'm sure money was tight in my parents' early marriage. My father was still in college when I was born, after all.

"We didn't need vacation," I answered, matter of factly, "We had my grandparents' house."

My grandparents live in a small town in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. To my sisters and me, it was our own little slice of heaven. It wasn't the tiny Appalachian town itself that was so enthralling, although the occasional trip to the Wal-Mart was always exciting (note: in small towns the mega-store is not referred to as simply "Wal-Mart." It is always THE Wal-Mart). No, it was my grandparents that made our visits so special.

From the minute my parents dropped us off up until our goodbyes, we knew that our grandparents had carved out this week just for us. The kitchen was stocked with our favorite foods and the days were blank canvases waiting to be filled with romps in the creek, tire-swinging, raspberry-picking or firefly-catching.

One of our favorite pastimes was dressing up in my grandmother's old gowns from the 50s and 60s. We'd spend an hour selecting the perfect combination of dress, wig, gloves and jewelry. The final accessory was always a couple of pairs of Grandpa's tube socks, balled up and stuffed down the front of the bodice to give an air of authenticity to the ensamble. Mamma, as we call her, was delighted to see us parading around the house in her vintage sequined top or a glamorous cocktail dress. Over the years, even her wedding gown became tattered and kool-aid stained after countless hours of dress-up. "Now tell me, how many wedding dresses have been this well-loved?" she would laugh.

My grandpa always had a surprise or two in store for us. Once he brought home an enormous refrigerator box from the local appliance store. We quickly fashioned it into a house, made Grandpa sit inside and fed him sandwiches through the tiny window. Another time he and I trapped a perfect little white bunny in the yard using the old carrot-under-the-box-propped-up-by-a-stick trick. Years later I learned that Grandpa actually got the rabbit from a pet store and stuck it under the box while I was asleep.
I think I named her Buttercup.
When I visit now, I'm taken aback at how quickly I'm transported to my childhood. The summer air still smells of honeysuckle and everything that's familiar. A small piece of me lives forever in those hills, along with the memories ofl Mamma's contagious laugh and Grandpa's late-night tales of the frightful Gohumpy that lives just up the holler.

When I first got married, I wanted to share this part of my past with my husband. And he's been to the house and he loves my grandparents too. But there are some things you just can't impart with words and grown-up visits.

This week my oldest is having a vacation of his own in the Kentucky mountains. This is the 3rd summer he has taken a solo trip to Mamma & Grandpa's house. 

My grandparents have been texting me photos  of his time with them. (yes, TEXTING. They're hip like that.)

He is swinging...

...roasting marshmallows...

...eating his favorite foods...

...dressing up (after a quick trip to the Wal-Mart)...

...and enjoying his own slice of Appalachian heaven.
I see his face and I recognize that joy. And I am blessed knowing that a piece of me and a piece of him are intertwined in those same hills.

We share the same love for the same two people in the exact same way.

We are sharing a slice of childhood.

And it sure is delicious.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your grandparents, Anna. I can feel the love and memories through your stories. I especially love your grandmother's perspective about her dress being "so well loved". We used to spend summers at my grandmother's house too, and I know what you mean about not being able to translate the rich beauty of that time to others now that you are an adult. I'm glad your Jack gets to experience it for himself as well.

  2. i remember baking with my grandmother...always baking...pies, cookies, cakes...mixing the ingredients in those colorful pyrex bowls...she always saved the batter-coated spoon for me...i type it out, but there is really no way to convey the experience without being 5 years old...inhaling the scent from the avocado-green oven...watching her hands knead the dough...knowing that her kitchen is stamped upon your heart...

  3. what an incredible blessing. love this story and love that your kiddos get to experience it as well. i'm betting jack really treasures that time alone with them too! :)
    also- i totally had a rabbit named Buttercup.

  4. This is perfect! I feel like I can completely relate to this story; summers spent with grandparents in the WV hills are some of the most cherished memories that I have. Your oldest is so fortunate to have the same experiences as you did when you were young! :)

    1. Thanks, Carrie! I'm SO grateful Jack gets to spend summers there too :)