I rode my bike to her house for no reason other than a destination on a free afternoon and the vague hope of a dime for the Dairy Bar that was next door. Through four alleys, across the high school parking lot, then north on Second Street past three houses--a short six blocks, which I might have timed at about five minutes if I had been old enough to own a watch, which I wasn't.
She was my in-town grandma, known as "Ma," and was usually found in the garden or the field of strawberries in the first few rows of the cornfield directly South of her house. We picked strawberries and rhubarb, or onions and carrots, or sometimes just weeded and looked for garden snakes slithering through the rows. Both of us were brown from time outdoors, but she less so because of the bonnet she sometimes wore.
She fed me no-bake cookies and butter and sugar sandwiches on white bread before we sat down on the front steps and snapped peas or green beans into metal bowls for Sunday dinners. If there was no gardening to do, she let me sew on her sewing machine with the foot pedal that I couldn't reach, and which made it a two person project.
I picked switches off the weeping willow tree, whipped them through the air, and then trailed them from my handlebars as I rode back home.
My other grandma carried the full name, but lived in Tennessee, requiring a road trip and an overnight stay in a small roadside motel with a tiny swimming pool if we were lucky. We drove on two lane highways, through rolling hills and mountains that made the ride feel like a roller coaster, before reaching her house on Peach Orchard Drive--a street that rose high above the town sitting in the valley below and that felt far away from the plains of south-central Illinois.
She was waiting for us on the front porch, and I wonder now how long she must have waited in the days before cell phones could announce our imminent arrival. As she got up to greet us, she called out to me by yelling "Yeannie," never conquering the "J" sound of my name that was foreign to her native Norwegian tongue.
There were bowls of candy in the living room that she let us eat without limits and a box of jewelry in her bedroom that she let us play with without asking. In the morning she fed us little pancakes rolled up with jelly inside and then followed us outside and clapped with glee as we showed her the cartwheels and somersaults that we had perfected since our last visit.
She sent packages at Christmas and on birthdays and came to our house for a week's visit every spring or fall. I took her to my Brownie meeting to talk about growing up in Norway and skiing to school and was smug knowing I would be the only one who could find Norway on the map.
My grandson came last week. I fed him fruits and vegetables (like his mom requested), and ice cream sandwiches and cookies and happy meals (like she didn't).
We blew bubbles at parks, took walks in wagons and strollers, and went down slides at playgrounds. He stood at the top of every slide like his mom had warned, and I had to sit him down before counting "un, deux, trois," which was his signal to go. We fed goats, rode a pony, had our faces licked by puppies, and watched ducks ignore us no matter how loud we yelled for them.
We played with puzzles and blocks, found Elmo in books, and sang "Old McDonald" too many times. He chewed on books at the bookstore leaving teeth marks for me to discover later, held on to my leg when we met new people, and climbed into my lap each night before he fell asleep.
After ten days we flew to DC to meet up with his mom and, three days later, I left him at the boarding gate waiting for a plane headed for Paris, where he would spend a day, before boarding a second plane headed for his home on yet another continent.
I waved good-bye at the gate and held back tears, hoping that a grandson's memories can survive across both time and continents.