Grandma must have foreseen this, because she made sure it wouldn’t happen.
|Caroline, Anne, Mary, Ellen:|
The CAME club at my 2012 wedding shower.
They were my bridesmaids.
I still don’t know what the big kids did, other than exclude us, but we weren’t big kids and they weren’t little kids, and nobody seemed to mind. But there was another problem: our southern Indiana cousins. All three were boys, and two were little kids. We saw them once a year, for a few days just after Christmas, and we mostly avoided them. We didn’t know them, and they were boys. Plus, the initials of their first names – the two younger ones, I mean – spelled B.M. Ew!
Grandma had been close to her cousins when she was a kid, and she wanted the same for her grandkids. When the oldest was about 14 or 15 and the youngest was 3 or 4, she rented a lodge on Houghton Lake in northern Michigan, the beginning of a fifteen-year tradition. It was a two-hour drive for us Michiganders and a day-long trip for the Indiana family. We arrived, unpacked, and ran around doing kid stuff. The twelve of us grandkids fell fairly naturally into the six big kids and six little kids – some parent told the CAME Club we had to let the younger boys (B. and M.) play with us, and after some adjustment we found a way to fit them in.
|A handful of us taking the boat out.|
Grandma wasn’t bubbly or extroverted. She would do crafts with us (the photo of all twelve grandkids standing in age order has been on her fridge for years, in the handmade popsicle-stick frame) and she would sit on the beach chatting with my mom and aunts, drinking something we weren’t allowed to try. Mostly, though, I think she enjoyed watching all of us be kids together. Then we were teenagers together. Then we started getting summer jobs and couldn’t take a week off, so while our parents stayed the whole week, we’d be in and out as we could make it. Finally, the youngest cousins were in college and the oldest ones were working entry-level jobs with no vacation time. Grandma had an empty nest.
|Six little kids and Grandma at Houghton Lake, 2011|
Almost three years after the last Houghton Lake week, Grandma died. Her grandkids were scattered all over the eastern half of the country. Four spouses and four children – one of them newborn – had been added to the family. But all twelve of us returned to our parents’ hometown in southern Michigan for the funeral. We hugged and cried and then went back to her house to be together. It was the first time we’d all been together in three or four years, and it was the last time we’d all be together at Grandma’s house.
The six little kids – now mostly grown up, with the youngest in college – were playing cards while trying to assign the responsibility of buying the lodge at Houghton Lake when my cousin David came into the room with a serious look on his face.
“Guys, we need to make some promises,” he said. “We always have to love each other, and we have to stay in touch.”
We all agreed, but the room was too merry (in that way reunions are) to consider them with the gravity David had intended. But we didn’t need to. All of that was an unspoken given – including buying the lodge, though it will be years before that’s a possibility. Grandma had wanted all of us to be friends, and she made it happen. Her tactic was simple. She took us all to the beach and said, “Go play.”
And we did.