I wrote this in January, a week after returning from Grandma's funeral.
I grew up with an annual summer tradition of traveling with my sisters to visit our grandparents in Mobile, Alabama. As a child from an arctic wasteland (commonly known as Canada), the tropical heat, deep-fried food, warm-hearted relatives and lax fireworks laws transformed my grandparent’s simple brick bungalow into a symbol of childhood adventure. It was just so different from home. And Grandma fed me Reese’s Puffs.
I always looked forward to the end of the school-year with mounting enthusiasm. School ended and we each fought to cram as many belongings as we could into a single carry-on bag. After numerous flights and waiting patiently in airport after airport, we inevitably pulled our rental car into the well-worn driveway at 7209 Knollwood Road. We were greeted with smiles, smothering hugs and kisses on the cheek. The love I felt was tangible and that initial greeting always marked the beginning of grand adventures.
As a child, even the small backyard was intoxicating. The taste of humidity when I took a deep breath, the torrential storms that sent me scurrying inside to watch in wonder as lightning spider-webbed across the sky and the incessant hum of cicadas all captivated my attention and cultivated an eager curiosity for the world around me.
I have far too many memories of my grandparents and the micro-adventures that took place in their house to write them all down but I’ve chosen to relay three that I remember particularly fondly.
As a kid, I was obsessed with any six-legged creature that crawled on the ground, flew in the sky or burrowed in the earth. I LOVED insects! Mobile was paradise simply because there were TONS of them. In the backyard, if you looked closely, you could find well-camouflaged walking sticks frozen on the trees or praying mantises perched in the bushes. The kitchen was even better; you never knew when a cockroach would scuttle out from under a cupboard setting everyone around off into a frenzy of stomping and broom-swinging! With the help of a borrowed jar from grandma’s pantry, a small menagerie of insects was captured, frozen and transported (illegally, I think) back to Nova Scotia where they still sit pinned in the remnants of my childhood insect collection.
2) Cousin-Sponsored Entertainment
My sisters and I were blessed to have a cohort of cousins willing to tolerate four younger Canadian munchkins and entertain. There was often a motif of the singing, of freshly invented songs including the strange mantra “there’s a mouse about in the house.” We re-enacted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on film, shot at (and, without exception, missed) squirrels with pellet guns, attempted to play basketball, and set off bottle-rockets in ant-hills. Our cousins never failed to make life interesting and most of my fondest Alabama memories center around their generous contributions of time and increasingly creative manipulation of our Canadian naiveté. They also freed my younger sister Michelle of all dancing inhibitions.
3) Donkey Kong
My Alabama morning routine was to wake up, eat a healthy breakfast Reese’s Puffs (don’t judge, it says “Part of a Complete Breakfast” on the box) and dive into an enthusiastic game of Donkey Kong with my sisters. I can remember every minute detail of those mornings. Kayla and I tried over and over and over again to beat the giant crocodile on his evil-lair-of-a-ship and finally celebrated our victories with high fives and more Reese’s Puffs. Donkey Kong was the king of my Alabama mornings.
I remember struggling to solve the twisted-nail puzzle, questioning why Grandma thought croquet was a thrilling sport, chilling out with Grandpa in his dusty workshop, breathing the smell of the yellowing National Geographic magazines that I pored over for hours on the burnt-orange couch; the list of life-shaping memories could go on ad infinitum.
I visited my childhood adventure-land one final time last week. Saying my last goodbyes at Grandma’s funeral and leaving the little brick house at 7209 Knollwood Road for the last time feels like the closing of a major chapter in my life. It has an odd, throat-lump-inducing air of finality to it.
I’ve been fortunate to have some incredible adventures over the last few years. I’ve hiked mountains in Nepal, chilled on Sri-Lankan beaches, explored mosques in Istanbul, strolled the streets of Jerusalem, gazed in wonder at Iguazu Falls and settled into new homes in Bangladesh and Paraguay. Despite all these wonderful experiences, I know I’ll never have adventures as intoxicating and love-filled as my childhood escapades at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.