My grandma ironed her sheets, and her towels were always fluffy and warm.
When my little sister and I went to visit overnight, she would give us a bath before bed, then brush our hair and tuck us into crisp sheets. She would read us a story – Peter Rabbit was a favorite – help us say our prayers, then turn out the light, assuring us she and grandpa would be in the next room.
The next morning we'd have a big breakfast: cantaloupe, bacon, eggs, toast, orange juice, milk, cinnamon rolls, maybe even some fried potatoes, and if we were lucky, a sip of coffee laced with milk. Later on we might make a trip uptown for shopping; grandma might bake bread or “dust up” the living room. She usually had some little bit of work for us to do, but looking back I think it was “busy work” in the truest sense of those words.
When I got to be a little older my overnight visits became a time to do some detective work: what was my dad like when he was a little boy? Did he always whistle when he worked? Did he get in trouble a lot?
Or I'd ask my other grandmother about my mom: was she a good help? Did she complain when she had chores? Did she do her homework cheerfully?
Sometimes I got answers, or even a peek at a photograph; sometimes I got the runaround. Grown-ups often stick together, and my grandparents never said or did anything to undermine my parents' mystique and authority.
Two of our grandchildren will spend this week-end with us.
The sheets won't be ironed, and the towels might not be quite as fluffy as my grandmother's, but probably there will be baths before bed, stories and prayers. Probably there will be chores for me and busy work for them, with maybe a trip uptown to the children's museum. And there will definitely be a good breakfast – probably some of grandpa's famous buttermilk pancakes with some real maple syrup or blueberries.
Visiting grandparents, spending the night with them, is like time traveling. A child gets a glimpse of what it might have been like for her parent to grow up in a particular house. It helps to shake away the illusion that a parent has always been an adult, and sometimes reveals the fact that a grandparent hasn't always been “old.”
And for grandparents, it's a bit of time traveling, too, back to the time when they were young parents themselves, or even back to the time when they visited their own grandparents for an overnight stay.
You don't have to be Einstein to figure out the value – or the fun - of that!