They leave as they’d arrived . . . vehicle by vehicle out the dirt-and-gravel-packed driveway they’d dipped down into a week ago. Tent, boat, kayak, paddleboards, bikes, duffle bags and towels, computers, coolers with huckleberries and cookie dough tucked inside—all stowed in the back, trailered, or on top. Pilot sits tall in his backseat, window rolled down like the others, wagging his tail, making eye contact for one last Gramma rub of his silky blonde ears—before heading down the road. There’s always a little square dance of long hugs on the front porch as trucks and cars fill, windows down for final waves. We stand as we always do on the steps above the porch to watch as each one drives out of sight . . . “Safe travels” and blown kisses. The last car left today after an extra night in the cabin, breakfast on the porch, packing, and a last dip in the lake . . . the familiar last morning routine. And just like that, it’s over.

I think everyone did just about everything on his or her list this week. Sunrise paddleboard club on the lake (even with smoky, strangely-muted skies), morning coffee and reading on the porch, early morning mountain hikes, afternoon wakeboarding, tubing, paddleboard coffee klatching—paddleboards circling like spokes in a wheel, lunch at Norm’s News for burgers and shakes, boating trips to Bigfork for Huckleberry Ice Cream cones, more wakeboarding, cliff jumping, Tamarack Brewery for dinner at big tables outside on the patio by the creek, breakfasts and dinners on the porch, cooking, baking, barbecuing, Nurtz and Spades, huckleberry picking, huckleberry pie baking and eating, S’mores at the fire ring—all those familiar traditions plus some new ones. One grandson and his wife tent camped down on the point all week. Another and his girlfriend swam across the bay to Viking Island! Caity headed out with the toned confidence of famed open water distance swimmer Julie Bradshaw in rough mid-morning waves—Jake on the paddleboard beside her. Then they reversed positions, Jake swimming back. Here are the offical times: Caity-1 hour, 23 minutes and 3 seconds. Jake-1 hour, 31 minutes and 56 seconds. Quite a feat in rough waters. A new chapter added to the Viking Island tales.

These are the days we look forward to all year. Everyone all together at the cabin. We’ve gathered here each summer since the grandkids were babies and we were still teaching school in California. Aunt Anna Lou lived here for many of those years and always made room for us. There’s the stocking up on groceries and supplies, the bed-making, the freshening of the old cabin, the penciling of names on the bathroom wallpaper above the glass towel hooks, the unpacking of silverware, toaster, and coffee pot from the porch buffet, and finally, the gathering of tall Shasta daisies in the big blue jar.

The first night is always tacos and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. For us old folks the getting ready takes the most effort. We spread it out over a couple of weeks. Once everyone is in, we relax, falling into our simple routines—me, making the morning coffee, cutting up the fruit, setting out the breakfast fixings—making scones one morning, picking up fresh donuts in town another. We can join in the planned activities or rest, mix up cookie dough or a birthday cake, or nap. I’ve learned not to fuss, just let the days take shape. We’ll usually plan the supper menu at breakfast and decide who’s shopping and cooking. Grampa always sleeps late, scrambles his cheesy eggs for whoever wants them, then putters with breakfast cleanup, keeps up with the watering outside, brews big batches of iced tea every other day—and monitors the trash—“conservation of space,” he instructs to no one listening, as he rearranges the used paper plates in the trash can on the porch. What he loves best about these days is just hanging out and talking with his kids and grandkids. There really isn’t anything we have to do.

I’ve felt a subtle “shift” these past couple of years. The grown-up grandchildren have joined their parents in looking out for Gramma and Grampa. No hovering, just an easy awareness of what needs to be done to feed and keep a semblance of order in the common spaces with so many of us. Hands beside me ready to lift, or climb and reach, or wash dishes, or cook, or pick up groceries, or bake, or make sure everyone is included in each fun activity, a fresh cup of coffee brought to me after dinner, offers to pick up a mousetrap “since we’re in town” after we’d spotted the tiniest chubby creature scampering in the open door of the kitchen in the heat of the team-cooking the evening before—and later zipping behind my chair in the living room! What a gift—all of this loving care.

It isn’t new, this thoughtfulness. They’ve always been helpful even when youngsters, and our own big “kids” have been working beside us and doing the heavy lifting for years. Nevertheless, I felt the shift a bit more this summer—like Madeleine in her Summer of the Great Grandmother.

The pattern has shifted; we have changed places in the dance. I am no longer anybody’s child. I have become the Grandmother…the steps of the dance shifting. The rhythm of the fugue alters; the themes cross and recross. The melody seems unfamiliar to me, but I will learn it…

Perhaps it was because Grampa could participate less that he usually does, having had dermatologic surgery early in the week, or simply because we are getting older. Acceptance of this and the relinquishment to limitations comes slowly, for I feel just the same inside as I did fifteen years ago when I was making beds with fresh sheets and quilts, propping new stuffed mountain animals on the little grandkids’ pillows, and taping names to the footboards or door frames in preparation for their arrival. Somehow, the sweetness of these days together this year has helped me accept this transition as a gift, to feel the grace of it. And isn’t it wonderful to be loved!

As usual, the visit just wasn’t long enough. Some talk of driving up for our September Soup Supper as we hug and re-hug on the porch. Some ask when we’ll be coming to Boise for the winter. Others mention that they might come to pioneer in the cabin for a winter weekend on their own, as we’ve always encouraged. Farewell my loves.

6 thoughts on “The shift

  1. Yes, you have a gift in all the loving care your children and grandchildren show you. You and Rex have also given the gifts of love, time, and traditions to all your family. You set the foundation for this “shift.” Now I see why you looked so forward to moving here after your retirement.


    1. I think we all would have gained 10 pounds with all the eating that week, except everyone (except me 😉 was either hiking or in the lake if they weren’t eating or sleeping. Thanks for your sweet words.


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