I came upon the picture book a week after my granddaughter Meghan's birth.
To one who never completely left the 1960s, the title was irresistible: "My Hippie Grandmother."
In winsome verse, author Reeve Lindbergh describes a little girl visiting her grandmother, who has a purple school bus, a guitar, and causes for which she protests. The child's parents are proper Washington-type professionals (lawyer and TV personality), and the grandmother gamely tells the little girl she can be anything she wants. Her reply: "I want to be a hippie grandmother like you."
I bought the book on the spot, counting on it to help extend the special bond between grandmother and granddaughter that I began with my grandmother more than 50 years ago when she shared with me the things she held dear.
Extending that bond, I'm discovering, involves a kind of time travel -- to the past to recall and retrieve the gifts received as granddaughter, then a return to the present to pass them on as grandmother.
I remember my grandmother best when she was in her seventies and eighties -- a short, sturdy woman with wispy white hair pulled back in a bun; long, dark dress; the kind of thick brown stockings that look like bandages and what I thought of as "old lady shoes."
Throughout my childhood she came by bus from her tiny town apartment to our new house in the still rural outskirts of our New Jersey municipality. The bus would let her off at the edge of the woods behind the house, where our cocker spaniel waited. Together they would lope through the woods, crossing the brook on a log, my grandmother using her two brown-paper shopping bags (the kind with string handles) to keep her balance. The bags contained the New York Times and brightly colored children's books that she read aloud -- often for hours -- when we came home from school.
In short order we graduated to stories such as "Mary Poppins," "Charlotte's Web," "The Prince and the Pauper" and all of Louisa May Alcott.
A sense of urgency was added to our reading by announcements that a movie such as "Treasure Island" was coming to the local theater as a Saturday matinee. I was always dying to go, but my grandmother decreed that reading the book must precede seeing the movie. Often we finished the book the day of the show. The build-up -- the frenzy to finish the book before the movie started -- was, in retrospect, usually more exciting than the movie itself.
One of the things that distinguished my grandmother was her language. It was old-fashioned, embarrassingly so, but predictable and as such comforting.
When I arrived home, clad in my good school dress, and headed out to climb the nearest tree, she would admonish, "Take off your pretty frock before you soil it."
She sometimes talked about car blankets and about airing out bedclothes; whenever she saw me reading with what she deemed insufficient light, she would say, "Dear child, fix the light or you will ruin your beautiful eyes."
"Beautiful eyes." The words still make me smile, as I do when I look into the face of the bouncy 10-month-old baby kicking her feet to the beat of Scott Joplin. Like my grandmother, I spend a couple of days a week with my granddaughter. My commute, however, is opposite of hers -- from suburbs to city; with no brook to ford, I wade, instead, through crowds at the Metro stop. Sometimes I pause to wonder what phrases of mine may linger in Meghan's consciousness. And I wonder, too, what passions I will share with Meghan as my grandmother did, bequeathing me her love of literature and language.
My grandmother's enthusiasms also included the Greek language and civilization. She once explained how she came to love Greek: Her brother studied it in school, but it was not offered to the girls. She got hold of her brother's books, started to teach herself and begged her father to find a way for her to study it. He offered to help pay for a Greek teacher if her school would offer it. It did.
As I push the stroller toward our favorite park, I find myself savoring the enthusiasms that Meghan already exhibits. A cornet player in front of the Metro station? Meghan picks up the sound from afar and strains her neck to see where it is coming from. As we get closer she waves her arms and grins.
Another day we hear gospel music in Dupont Circle, a couple of blocks away. As we draw near, I lift Meghan from the stroller and we dance around the fountain, Meghan locking eyes with the man holding the boombox and laughing with pure joy.
On her 90th birthday, my grandmother and I had lunch together and talked about all the changes occurring in the late 1960s and specifically how, in 1969, anything seemed possible. We talked about the generation gap and communes, about which she was extraordinarily knowledgeable -- from reading the New York Times, she explained. The conversation turned to the year 1900, and she told me about being in Paris to witness the excitement of the new century.
Today, in the early years of yet another century, I look into Meghan's smiling eyes and think about time stretching backward and forward -- about the special love of grandmother and granddaughter, no matter from which perspective you view it.