Picture this: A small town in Central Illinois in June. The year is 1992. The house is a 3600 square foot home, with no central air conditioning. There's a pool out back. I was 16, and had just managed to get my driver's license at the end of May. The town is one of those quiet, sleepy little towns. There's only one 4 way stop, one restaurant, a grocery store, a flower shop, bank, and pharmacy. There are schools, but not much else. The majority of my days are spent lounging around the pool with as many friends as possible, without a care in the world.
But deep down inside, there's this urge. An urge to travel, to see the countryside, to go places with my newly attained driver's license without the watchful eye of my mother impeding my adventure. I had one place in mind. A place where mischief was around every corner. A place where the food supply was endless, the laughter was unstoppable, and the company was as rowdy and raucous as any high school girl would ever need.
I negotiated with my mom, explaining to her that I'd been to this place a hundred times before. Of course I knew how to get there. Of course I'd stay out of trouble. Of course I knew the friend I was going to visit could be a bad influence, what with her sense of humor and never-ending desire for adventure. My mom finally agreed, and I was off. I packed the car, planning to only stay a night or two, got in my 1986 Chrysler LeBaron, and hit the highway for a one hour solitary trek.
To Grandma's house.
I pulled into Grandma's driveway, and remember being filled with giddy excitement. I knew that my days with her were always filled with shopping trips that somehow didn't cost us a thing, dinners in front of the tv, and walks down to the creek to kick rocks at the garbage floating by or pick berries from the bushes in the woods.
I was right. We did all of the things we normally do, the walking, the talking, the laughing, the tv watching...but that night, something came up a little differently. You see, grandma never had a driver's license. So to be there alone with her and have the freedom of hopping in my car to go out for the evening was something foreign to both of us.
"Should we go to dinner?" I asked. She happily agreed, and it was decided I would just drive us down to the end of the neighborhood to go to the little ice cream place for burgers and fries. We pulled in, and hopped out like two young girls who had been told they didn't have a curfew. We walked into the restaurant, and grandma looked up at the menu board. She paused, studying each and every line with painstaking curiosity. She turned, looked at me, looked back at the board, then back to me, before loudly asking, "This all they got?!?!?"
I answered, "yes, did you want to go somewhere else?" Grandma smiled and said, "Well, yes! I think I can figure out the directions into town. Let's go to the mexican place!" We hopped in the car, navigated our way through the "city," and found the restaurant she was craving.
I'll never forget that trip. She decided she wanted a margarita, and being only about five feet tall, she could barely see over the glass on the table. I watched her take the lime and run it along the salty rim of the glass, dip it into the drink, and do it all over again. My husband noticed that, to this day, I still drink my margaritas that way.
Grandma's birthday was July 4th. She always said she felt so lucky to have all those fireworks in her honor. Every summer was defined by my trips to her house, and then our trips for her birthday when she moved down south. Any 4th of July that was NOT spent with grandma was a 4th of July that felt empty. One where I was left...wanting. Wanting to sit by the campfire with her and eat hotdogs. Wanting to watch her tap her toes along with the music played by my cousins while we grilled out by the hotel pool. Wanting to help her fill her plate when age started to creep in and she couldn't do it herself any longer. Wanting to watch her savor every last bite of the cake, when she got to the point in life that sweets were all she wanted. Wanting to go into her apartment after a long day on the beach, only to smell her powder and her "Tone" soap. Wanting to take her to the casino in the morning to hit the nickel slots and the buffet if we were feeling really lucky.
Grandma passed away on March 13, of this year. I noticed that I had written her birthday in the calendar before that day. Even though she'd have turned 94 this year, the physical ache I feel when looking at that calendar is so real. She lived a full life, and knew that she was loved.
I'll have to figure out a way to make some new 4th of July memories, and still hold on to the joy I felt the day I drove to see my dining-out-buddy when I was just 16. Grandma would want it that way...