Growing up, my friends were always amazed when I told them how far I traveled visit my grandparents. While my peers ventured into various Twin Cities suburbs for family gatherings, I crammed in the back seat with my sister for the trek up north.
Five hours in the car was just what we did. And for now, it’s what we still do.
Even before I started driving, I knew the route; memorized the landmarks and “now entering small town Minnesota” signs. The towns are famous in their own rights. Known for their hockey teams and hunting grounds.
But for me, they were just one step closer to grandparents. To the comfort of their homes and hugs.
I’ve lost grandparents. Three out of four. I’ve quit visiting their homes. Both of them.
But there’s one grandma I still visit. My dad’s mom
At 94, she still manages to find a smile whenever we visit. A glimpse of the woman we all remember. Even if she doesn’t remember us.
Sometimes we think she remembers, but most often, it’s our own wishful hoping.
Last Thursday, my dad and I decided to visit the Northland. To visit Grandma.
We made this same trip last September. Just the two of us. This time, I did the driving. While dad did the riding.
And every hour we stopped so that dad could stretch and move; doctor’s orders.
The only stop I officially planned was lunch at Gordy’s Hi-Hat in Cloquet, MN. It’s my favorite burger place. Ever. In the whole world. My normal order is either a burger or a cheeseburger. But I could not pass up the daily special: double cheeseburger. Double the juicy beef patty. Double the melty cheese. Double the grilled onions. Double the goodness. Doesn’t get much better than that. Oh wait, it does! Gordy himself took our orders!
No trip up north is complete without a stop at Gordy’s. A fact my entire family knows.
We arrived in my parent’s home town around dinner time. Dropped our gear off at my aunt’s house (yes, she asked if I enjoyed my stop at Gordy’s!). And went to visit Grandma.
She was eating a not-so-appetizing turkey dinner. She smiled at us in a Minnesota-nice sort of way. Friendly, but not familiar.
We sized her up. Her matted hair. Distant gaze. Frail hands. Worn skin.
We were there to feed her and sit with her. She attempted some words. Possibly starting out on a great story before her mind shut down. She finished her meal and we hugged her goodnight; promising to see her at breakfast.
With my dad, aunt, and uncle, we hit up a local eatery for traditional Up North meals. At dinner, we talked about normal life events. Laughing and sharing travel tips (my aunt and uncle are seasoned travelers with excellent tips!). Promised ice cream for dessert, we donned our jackets to help ward off the chilly Canadian air. We drove through town past my grandparent’s home – a home with a trampoline in the yard and strangers in the house. It still hits whenever I see my grandparent’s homes. The fact that they don’t live there; I don’t visit them there. It’s getting easier. As the years pass, I have fallen into new routines and no longer set myself up for disappointment when we don’t pull into their driveways. Still, it is something I will probably never fully accept.
Past the city limits, we turned at a familiar landmark and headed toward the lake and pulled right into Tara’s Wharf. Back in the day, I’d been to Grandma’s Pantry. And I distinctly remember Woody’s Fairly Reliable Guide Service.
Tara herself showed us around her cozy inn before our ice cream indulgence. Despite the cool temps, my Huckleberry ice cream on a sugar cone was delicious.
Looking out over Rainy Lake, nodding my hello to Canada, I savored the cool, crisp air. Partly because I love cool weather and think that life without autumn would be terrible. But I think I savored it because I know that it might not happen again.
Following my aunt and uncle’s routine, my dad and I enjoyed our breakfast at a local fast-food joint with senior citizens galore. The people in the restaurant exchange hello’s and daily gossip; enjoying their small town life. It’s refreshing and comforting. To know that Mayberry still exists. We visited with extended family — my uncle’s family. Shared fishing tales and health reports. And then, as we promised, we went to visit Grandma.
We found her in the dining hall. Greeted her with hugs, stating our names and titles (Megan – Granddaughter). She smiled up at us. Who knows if she knew us. She was just happy we were there. Breakfast ended. We wheeled her down the college-dorm-like hallway to her room and helped cover her with a fleece blanket, tilting her wheelchair back for comfort. We snapped a picture and hugged her goodbye.
It’s a scene I’ve acted out numerous times. And I’m glad I’ve been there to visit. To remind Grandma how loved she is.
Though Grandma can’t remember our visits, I do. I always will.
For ten hours worth of driving, this visit was one of my shortest trips on record. It was worth every mile. Because someday, trips up north, that far north, will be a cherished memory I’ll take out every Christmas.