We hated going to our grandparents' house.
They lived in a small town 45 miles the other side of New Orleans. It was a hot, humid and impossibly boring place to spend a vacation, or so we thought at the time.
Like many small towns in the mid-'40s, Thibodaux had open ditches, graveled streets and one movie house. There were no such things as nursery schools or educational toys and the one swimming pool was not available to us. For amusement, there were only a few things we could do, making the intervals between them seem interminable.
We could wait all morning for the awful blare . . . WWO-O-NK . . . of the water tower horn every day at noon, daring the blast to scare us. It always did.
We could walk "back of town" on the other side of town) to Cousin Leolahs, where we stuffed ourselves with "sugar popcorn" (colored candied popcorn) and were laughed at by Cousin Herman because we didn't, couldn't and wouldn't try to pull out the insides of boiled okra with our teeth.
We could sit on the front porch from the time the 4-o'clocks opened until the boy who sold seven different flavors of snow cones came by. We could shell peas with Grandmother into a white enamel basin and listen to the grown-ups gossip.
We always could visit the neighbors. There was Miss Maud who still used irons that had to be heated on the stove and whose outhouse we always just "had" to use. We would brush her white, waist-length hair, look at her picture album and listen to stories about her son James.
There was Thurston and his wife, Miss Nora, a dramatic couple probably considered eccentric, who took us for rides in their Model "T" Ford and often had hand-cranked ice cream with fresh fruit to offer us.
And then there was Uncle Butte (rhymes with put), a double amputee who had lost all of his teeth, who never failed to supply us with a case of Nehi fruit-flavored sodas (especially strawberry and lime) and who lived in a place that housed several functioning "one-arm bandits."
After supper we could sit in the rocking chairs and listen to the water or watermelon juice in our stomachs swoosh back and forth.
Sometimes in the late evenings we would take long walks with our Aunt Pap -- really named Sylvia -- and Edward, a very attractive man from "up the Bayou." They walked us past houses where people sat rocking on screened-in porches and talked about everyone walking by (just as we talked about everyone in each house we passed).
It was always quiet in Thibodaux. As we walked we could hear our shoes cruncing little rocks on the sidewalks. The crickets were always active, and of course we watched lightning bugs flit through the darkness.
Going to our grandparents' home was always guaranteed to put 10 pounds on each of us. In preparation for our annual vist, Grandmother bought all kinds of junk food. What had been unavailable to her own children when they were young, was gladly and freely given to us: The Grands. Her own children ate "short'nin' bread," so to speak, but for us, it was lemonade, tea cakes, angel food cake and grits with cheese.
Plus, we were Grands from The City, so many cousins came from "back of town" and from "up the Bayou" to see us. The always brought sweets. And any place we went we were fed sodas, cookies, cakes and candies. Our dentist at home in Houston must have thought that Christmas came every September.
The only times we were upstaged were when Grandmother was visited by her former employers, Miss LaDay and her sister. Grandmother spent all of their visit making over them and feeding them . We were always glad to see them go home.
Grandfather was a person we saw a lot [but with whom we seldom talked.] He'd come home every evening with pipe in his mouth, his gray work clothes caked with crystallized salt. He smelled of sweat and always walked directly to the washhouse in the backyard to scrub his uniform with Octagon soap on an old washboard.
His appearance at the backdoor in clean work clothes, fragnant pipe relighted, was Grandmother's signal to set the dinner table. He always seemed to eat the same thing at the same time: rice, boiled cabbage, boiled carrots, meat and a glass of carmelized milk. After dinner, he'd rock in his rocking chair on the front porch until bedtime. When we kids would hear him heading towards the porch we'd fly in all directions. We didn't want him to know we'd been warming up his rocking chair. When he was angry at us for talking during a baseball game he was listening to on the radio, he'd holler at us in Creole.
But we looked up to him. He was a mysterious man.
Grandmother never let us do any chores. Either she or her daughter -- our mother -- would do the work. We were to be children free to enjoy childhood. She'd let us use the sprinkling can, shaking her head in amazement at our enjoyment of bathing in water heated in tea kettles on the kitchen stove. (We were nearly grown before she had hot, running water).
Grandmother let us make animal pens with her bolster to play "Pig in a Poke." And as we got older, she would even let us sleep in her tall four-poster bed in the front room. The front bedroom faced the street and morning always arrived slowly in that room. sleepers were awakened gently by the sounds of a small town waking up: people and cars traveling over the graveled streets, church bells ringing, people greeting each other on their way to work ("Mornin', Miz Annie," "Mornin', Mr. Weber"). Sleeping in that magnificent canopied bed was the creme de la creme of the entire visit.
With Grandparents Day -- a holiday often overlooked -- coming up on Sunday, we are reminded of those experiences, or treasures, that we want to pass on to our children.
We have traveled to many cities and towns miles from Thibodaux since then. We have slept in many beds and eaten many foods, plain and exotic. But nothing can match the mixture of warmth, flavor, tranquility and love we knew as children with our grandparents.