My grandfather died in his mid-70’s quite suddenly. It was June of 1978, just before their 50th wedding anniversary. My grandmother was lost without him. She hadn’t driven in years, she didn’t pay the bills or oversee their investments. Mom stepped in to help that summer and we spent a lot of time with Grandma at her home in central Michigan. I was a gangly 10 year-old, looking more like a boy than a girl. My siblings were mostly grown. Much of the time, it was just the three of us: Grandma, Mom and me.
Grandma and Mom dug through closets and boxes and papers, while I mostly hid my nose in a book. We ate chicken, salads and the homemade cookies she kept in her freezer. She decided to lose weight and joined Weight Watchers. In support of her efforts, a new yogurt machine turned out white goo. She would spoon in some jam, turning it into nasty fruit-flavored slime that we would eat with air-popped popcorn in front of her black and white TV. We went to town for lunch at the slanted-floor diner and sometimes drove all the way to Graying for groceries.
While we did a lot of touristy things to get Grandma out of the house, “visiting” was our most common pastime that summer. “Visit” could be a noun, a verb or an adjective, with a special emphasis on the “t” in “Visiting.” We would go Visiting, or we could be on a Visiting trip. Every so often people would stop by for a Visit. Sometimes they called ahead to let Grandma know that they were coming. Sometimes they just showed up, car tires crunching up the driveway, stopping on their way from somewhere to somewhere. I would be introduced to Cousin Somebody, and then we would sit in the screened-in porch, drinking tea, while they talked about their trips, the weather, my grandpa’s passing, and family members’ comings and goings.
Sometimes we spent an entire day driving miles from home to home, Visiting. To keep my Grandma occupied, we went up to my father’s family cabin in the Upper Peninsula several times. Inevitably, the trip included a stop at a distant cousin’s or family friend’s house for a Visit. We returned to our home in the Detroit suburbs, and took Grandma Visiting the relatives who lived in that area. I can’t tell you how many “davenports” I sat on, waiting for the end of the Visit. If I was lucky, it was a glider and I could push it back and forth in the August heat, creaking in concert with the drone of cicadas. If I was really lucky, our host served rhubarb pie.
I sort of wish Visiting was still a thing people did. It seemed a kind of homestead soil, grounding people together, lives intertwined with shared stories. The connections were mysterious to my 10 year-old self. These vaguely familiar people whose houses held threadbare furniture, unique smells and pictures of those I had never known. Stories of cousins killed in the hay fields, uncles taken ill at a young age, or great grandfathers who lived into their 90’s.