Friday, August 14, 2009

Ellen Goodman writes: I am back at my post in coastal Maine. Feet planted on the porch railing. Back braced against the familiar contours of the Adirondack chair.

On the bird feeder, squabbling goldfinches vie for the same perches as if there were not plenty of open seats at their sunflower seed banquet. A bold hummingbird stops chasing his larger avian foes to see if I am worth his time, and then moves on.

the house is quiet this morning. A summer of rain has given way, at last, to sun. a summer of family has given way to solitude. The superheroes who must be obeyed and tiny doctors in need of an adult patient have packed up their imaginations and left us to the landscape. the cacophony of grandchildren is replaced by the low hum of a neighbor's lobster boat in the cove.

Weeding, they say, is a gardener's full employment program. But children are a grandparent's full employment program. The cultivation of one has let the other get out of hand. Crabgrass has become our garden's most reliable produce.

so, I give the garden my attention and then move on to my other weeding job. It's time to cull the family photographs on my laptop. the portrait of our Fourth of July clown. the crabs in the bucket. the epic water fight. The cousins picnicking on a rocky point they could once only navigate with adult help and now clamber over with abandon.

I choose the best of these--a sunny, happy, "say cheese" album --although not without wondering about my role as editor. The Brownie's and Kodachrome of my childhood and parenthood have been replaced by the digital camera and the ubiquitous cell phone lens of my grandparenthood.

These come with their instant images and delete buttons that leave a record of childhood as one long smile. There is even a camera with a smile detector that automatically clicks at a toothy grin. Do we now excise the frowns of childhood the way we edit out red-eye?

But, I am here as grandparent, not editor. so I will transform the photo album of experiences into memories and add them to the family rogue's gallery that lines the hallway of our farmhouse. There, cousins can see themselves and their childhood in a kind of time-lapse photography.

It is, I suppose, the business of grandparents to create memories and the relative of memoires: tradition.

We want to lodge moments, like snapshots, in the fleeting video of time. We want to expand the comfort zone of emotional routines.

I suspect this is one way we bond with grandchildren who take to traditions with the same natural ease that they paradoxically take to the latest computer game.

My 7 year old granddaughter already has her list of island traditions. she arrives on the ferry with her Tamagotchi and a checklist of Things We Do on the island. The walk to the store for ice cream. The collection of seaglass and shells to be carefully sorted while sitting on the same judicial stone. Some comes as well with memories for which there are no photographs: the day of the tomato hornworm, the night of the bat.

My 6 year old grandson expects grandma's "Condor food" for breakfast and tales at bedtime. He memorized true "mommy stories" from my repertoire and insists on another variation of tales starring"scary hand and friendly hand." Along with the electronic games we fear have taken ownership of his mental storage space, there is room for every story of his grandfather's boyhood pranks.

Parents, I remember well, are caught in the dailiness of child raising. But grandparents, imbued with a different sense of time, create a narrative arc across generations. If parents are the forward momentum of a child's life, we become the curators of traditions.

How odd, I think, as I sort the photographs, that of all the generations, mine would end up as a traditionalists. Weren't we the ones who upended the whole culture, the relationship between husbands and wives, the preconceptions about family? Aren't we the people who were born before television and, in a blink, got Medicare cards and iPhones at the same time? Weren't we our country's designated change agents?

Yet, here we are after all this time, with our children's children. We have become of all things, of all people, the collectors of memories and builders of family traditions. This is what we do with small people on a small island, one snapshot, one story and one summer at a time.


The deck is done. The fence is all most done. We are waiting for the fence people to put up the gates. When that is done, my dog can run around the back yard and I will know she is safe from traffic. She can keep the squirrels out of the peach tree. She can sniff the mouse trails. She can exercise without a leash. I hope to complete both projects before fall.

Time for a break: I am driving to see my daughter. Talking to her on the phone, I hear discouragement. They have car trouble. How can that be a problem when there is a mechanic in the family? Stephen said He will come with me. Daughter is much relieved. We have to pack the back of the truck with Stephen's tools. Don gives us a list of the parts the car needs. We will bring them with us. Stephen gets a mechanic's discount. It pays to buy the gaskets here.

Don has painted their bathroom. (It really needed it.) Beth has taken down all her shelves and decorations. Can she "borrow" some decorator things I have? They are in storage. It is better that those things get used than sit in storage. I get a list of items Beth thinks would look good in the newly painted bathroom. I also volunteered some other things that go with her request. Beth is going to have an woodsy an outhouse. She gets the plaque that says,"bear bottoms welcome here" (bears in the woods) I find a little carving of a raccoon. It goes in the truck along with a toilet paper holder that looks like a bear and a photograph of Adirondack chairs. I joke with my daughter and tell her to cut a hole in the bathroom door that looks like a half moon. All those things are packed in the back of the truck along with two Aerobeds for Stephen and me....sheets, pillows, blankets.

While rummaging through storage, I find a gallon and a half of a good neutral color paint that I never used. It is a low VOC paint. It goes in the truck. There are other rooms to be painted.

We have one day to pack and get out of here. I fill out the forms so the post office can hold the mail until We return. The fence people are called. They can't put up the gates until We return. My neighbor knows We are going. She will look out for the house. Stripped the beds. Did a load of laundry. Got out the suitcases.

Stephen has some things to do before We leave. We have to go to the parts store and to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. He has to pack his suitcase.

Before I walk out the door, the trash goes out. Somethings in the refrigerator have to be transferred to the freezer. Turn down the hot water tank to "vacation" position. Pull plugs on most electronics.

Lily is coming with us. Don't forget the dog...and dog food , leash and water.

Must not forget some CDs to enjoy on the drive and my address book with phone numbers and water to drink for the two of us.

Much to do before I can get out the door.