When I was a child, my grandmother and her home were as much a part of my life as my own dwelling. My parents ran a small dairy, and though they were supportive and devoted, time for leisurely conversation with them was rare. Grandmother was the one who read me hundreds of stories, aired cogent ideas, and had time for my endless questions.
On the porch, with me on her lap - the squeaky wicker rocker singing its own song - she'd read to me or we'd just "visit," as she called it.
Late one day, near dusk, we looked toward the mountains. Banners of mist, like tethered flags, ribboned the peaks with salmon pink and lavender.
"Just think of it," Gram said, "No two clouds are ever the same. Like people. Nobody in the world is exactly like you and nobody ever will be."
This was deep stuff for an eight-year-old.
Through the years, when I was away at college and beginning married life, my grandmother wrote to me regularly. She was an avid reader and sent newspaper clippings and quoted excerpts from books, adding her hand-written analyses of each communication. In this way, she broadened my world.
Now I'm a grandmother. As is true for many of my contemporaries, I live far from my grandchildren. I see them on holidays and special occasions and always at their homes. Their parents can't get off from work long enough to come to mine.
My visits - whether for birthdays or holidays - are action-packed. We've graduated from miniature golf, walking the dogs, and visiting amusement parks to my serving as a "soccer (baseball or football) gram," cheering with their parents.
In their elementary years, my grandchildren demonstrated amazing manipulation of cartoon characters in a plethora of computer games - the only use of the family computer - and they certainly weren't interested in hearing me read "Charlotte's Web."
I finally purchased a computer and have reasonable skills with e-mail. My first message to the one grandchild willing to leave his computer games long enough to read an e-mail was to ask if he were having a good summer.
His response was instant and succinct: "Yes."
Their family vacations are geared to backpacking trips, a cruise, a week in a Hawaii condo. They have so little quality time for each other, I would not want to take any of it, and I am not complaining. I believe they should cram their available time with as much creative togetherness as possible.
As the grandchildren mature, we are beginning to close the "gram gap."
The ones in middle school have even asked me questions about family history for school projects. And through the years of absentee grandparenting, I have furthered at least one of the traditions of concern and support my grandmother provided for me. I do it with letters. These aren't "how-are-you? I-am-fine" notes. They are "variety packs" of news stories, editorials, and humor pertinent to their interests. I act as kind of a "search engine," clipping and storing items in large, name-labeled envelopes. When the weight in any one calls for 33 cents worth of postage, I mail the contents. I have also sent a PBS video on veterinary medicine careers to the grandson interested in that field. A white-water rafting adventure went to another.
My older grandson is ready for college this year.
I've received a handwritten note thanking me for the small endowment his grandfather and I set aside for him and for the "lifetime supply" of paper clips and other school supplies I gave him.
The part of his message I most treasure reads, "I'll make it a point to get off the train for a day with you when I go home for Christmas."
He's too old for the Hardy Boys or even Harry Potter. But I need a new computer, and I'm sure we can build another bridge between the generations when I ask him to help me purchase and install one.
-- Willma Gore lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and has six grandchildren.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society