Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I was a fortunate kid who had both sets of grandparents until my teens. Most of our family vacations (in the station wagon with the 8-track tape of the singing Statesmen) were spent driving to and from one of my grandparents’ homes. My maternal grandparents lived in White Rock, B.C. a block from the beach and they had a trampoline in the back yard and wild blackberry vines that grew down the hill from their home. All of those were important items on my list as a kid. They lived in a four-story yellow house that stood out like Big Bird when we were on the beach looking toward land. The reason they lived in a four-story, gargantuan home was because my Grandmother took care of 10 women who had special needs, all who lived in the top floors of the canary-colored house. Grandma and Grandpa lived in the lower floor in two cramped bedrooms, a kitchen and livingroom. I can’t remember where we slept when we stayed there, but I have fond memories of that house.
The Ladies ate at a large diningroom table in a window-laden room facing the ocean on the second floor. It was a ways from the kitchen, where my grandmother cooked for all 17 of us inhabitants. We ate at a squishy kitchen table that was at the back of the house in a nook with windows across the far wall. Our view was the driveway and the neighbor’s fence. The table was formica with a gray and white pattern of triangles, and there were secured benches all the way around the table. No chairs. There was no room for chairs. I felt like a sardine lined up with my siblings and sometimes my cousins. And I loved it.
The day we arrived, Grandma gave each of us a see-through pill bottle with a white snap-on lid with our name written on it in a rainbow-shaped curve. It was for vacation allowance. Each and every day she handed out a quarter to me and my brother and sister. The coins fit perfectly in the little bottles. I have always relished things that fit perfectly. True to form, my brother would save his coins all week so on the last day he could carefully purchase a yo-yo, or a rubber coin purse that squeezed open or a candy bar. I lavishly spent my quarter every day. On junk candy. And I was okay with that. Because the next morning, for at least 20 minutes, there would be another shiny quarter that would fit perfectly into the bottom of my pill bottle that said L-I-N-D-A in the rainbow-shaped curve.
There were “other” cousins that also came to Grandma’s yellow beach house on Buena Vista Drive. Three girls, close to the same ages as us, but we weren’t “real” cousins. We spent a Christmas or two together when we were very young, eating at Grandma’s, but we never swapped gifts. I never gave it much thought but somehow felt sorry for them because they weren’t Grandma’s “real” grandchildren. I considered them on the outside.
In my 16th year of life, I came to the realization that the Grandmother that I loved, was married to my Grandfather…. after my maternal Grandmother passed away years previously. She was my STEP-Grandmother. But how could that be? She was not like Cinderella’s Step-anything! She loved us and fed us and gave us vacation allowance. THEN I realized that I was not a “real” grandchild…. I was on the outside! The three girls were on the INSIDE! That shocked me for days. It was my first real-life experience knowing unconditional non-blood related love. We were family and that was all that mattered. And I loved it.
More tomorrow, on my beloved Grandmother.