Memory Lane: Shopping With Grandma.

Out of all the things that embody the start of summer, for some reason it is the full day of errand running with my maternal grandmother that somehow acts as that seasonal trigger. Why this is, I couldn't say; but I will always remember it as something that seemed insignificant at the time, but has quickly become a cherished childhood memory.

Towards the end of school, I believe around the start of June, my grandmother who lived with us would often take me along in the car along with her as she did her shopping. I suppose she figured that since I was just getting out of school, it would be fitting to get the obligatory "spending time with the old folks" out of the way before I ran myself ragged outside with friends for three months. I was always one of those kids who didn't mind spending time with my grandparents, I throughly enjoyed my grandma's give 'em hell attitude, her chain smoking and direct attitude let so much to her personality, I think that some of her rubbed off on me (all except the smoking bit) but I digress.

The day would come when she would come to me in my room usually as I was enraptured by some Disney flick and ask, oh so casually if I would like to come shopping with her. I of course, was always too happy to oblige; grandma was such fun to be around, and let's not gild the lily, she always gave out spending money to us kids, and no 10 year old is so altruistic that they turn down a couple of bucks from their granny, I don't care what you say.

We would climb in to her beige Volkswagen, with its faux leather seats in scarlet and ease on down the road (grandma was always a normal driver, not like the stereotypical road racer/slow as a turtle old fogey.) She was always partial to listening to country/western music on the road, but would allow me to listen to what I wanted on these special outings, which was usually oldies rock from the 50's and 60's. Even as a wee one, I was a incurable Beatles fan, and I think my grandma found this quality endearing in me.

Our first stop was usually Franz Bakery, which always brought the pleasing Norman Rockwell-esque scent of freshly baked bread mingled with cinnamon and powdered sugar wafting outside to invade our senses. The cigarettes my grandma smoked had dulled her sense of smell so she neve really took to this initial greeting, but she always smiled when I mentioned that the scent of the baked goods was my favorite part of that store. We would get the normal loaves of white bread, sometimes wheat which was a favorite of mine and still is. I always loved the soft texture of the bread, and my grandma would usually let me hold the parcels as we walked through the bakery. My grandma had a sweet tooth and we would always load up on snacks if they were marked down, or if she had extra money. Hostess fruit pies were a must in our household, and at a quarter a pie, you better believe she bought plenty for all of us. Her favorite was apple, while mine was cherry. Doughnuts would follow as a special snack on this outing, powdered sugar and plain being the main choices on the menu. I would invariably get a dusting of the sugar under my nose and my grandma would remark that I looked like the world's youngest coke-head. Being the naive kid I was, I always found it silly that she would think I had a bottle of soda as a head when I was eating doughnuts, sadly that innocence is long gone. We would sit in the car, listening to the music, eating and talking about various things. I loved to question her about her childhood, as well as that of my mom and uncles. She was an everlasting font of historical knowledge for me.....for at least ten more minutes anyway, as we finished our treat and headed out for the next stop.

The secondhand store. Grandma was a firm believer in bargains, and I do believe it was her that first sparked my interest in garage sailing, antiqueing and being a general connisiour of all things subservient. The building we would most frequently patron was a liquidation center called "Odd Lots." It was painted such a ghastly shade of canary yellow that it rivaled the teeth of any Springer guest, but inside it held more treasures and trinkets than any adolescent boy would know what to do with. Grandma would always give me anywhere from $1 to $5 and tell me to look for something to amuse myself, while she would looks at old pewter silverware and knick-knacks for shelves and such. I however, was the reader of the house and I had shelves and shelves of yellowed tomes to choose from. A good two-thirds of these were usually stuffed with Harlequin romance novels (something that would become a guilty pleasure later on in life) and religious books. Nothing that a young male would want. My sights were set on unearthing the most coveted of series at the time. Yes, I am referring to Animorphs, a series I look back on with much love. It was rare to find an entry there, but when I did, I didn't care that it would eat up practically all my mad money, I felt as though I had discovered the Hope Diamond in a construction site!

Videos were another prize to be claimed. Most of them were out of my price range, but I would often find low-budget animated adaptations for as little as 99 cents sometimes. One of my all-time best discoveries was a third party retelling of "The Odyssey." It only ran for 45 minutes, the writers completely butchered the story, and all the males in the show sounded as though they were voiced by the same person, I watched it over and over until our VCR ate it. In a way, I have my grandmother to thank for sparking my interest in Greek mythology for taking me to that store and giving me the money to buy that god-awful cartoon. As much as I miss that flick, I miss watching it with my grandma even more.

Bags in hand, it was usually late afternoon by now, and time to head home where my mom would have dinner just about ready. It would usually be dusk and the street-lights would just now be turning on, bathing the streets and people in a unhealthy orange luminescence. My grandma would always remark that the hazy rays of sunlight, with dust motes floating betwixt and between them was such a relaxing sight. I never saw it as anything more than something that hindered my already poor vision, but I can appreciate their simple beauty now in my adult years as she did. As we turned into the driveway, my grandma would always ask me if I had a good time, and the answer was a jubilant YES! I can recall one time when she started to tear up, and worried, I asked her what was wrong. She told me that she was just happy that I was a grandson who appreciated her company and asked her questions instead of asking for handouts. I was embarrassed by this sudden display of emotion that was so unlike her jovial self, but looking back on it now - I know it must have taken a lot of courage to say something like that to a little kid at that.

My grandma passed away from lung cancer two years ago. Ever a fighter, she remained feisty and positive to the very end. Though she exited this world physically frail and weak, it is her zest for life and love for her family I will always remember. When I go out walking in those lazy sumer nights, and the glow of the street lamps begins to coat the cars and people returning home from work; when I hear the distant shouts of young children laying the outdoor games only young children can appreciate , I know that summer is here....and I long just a little for those long-ago days of shopping with grandma.