Last time we visited family we stayed for an overnight in Milwaukee (my family) and overnight in Madison (Ian's mom). This time we figured we'd check out Chicago and do day trips up. With the longer stay in Chicago it made perfect sense. With the shorter stay, well, that's a lot of driving crammed into 3 days but we managed. We don't plan to come out this way next year before leaving to Jordan, nor do we plan to come back to the Midwest during our tour in the Middle East, so it could be as much as 5 years before we see them again. So, it was one of those trips that had to be done.
Wednesday we drove up to Madison to see Ian's mom and didn't make it there until noon. The plan was also to see my cousin who works in the city but there just wasn't time to get-together. As it turned out, the trip back to Chicago took an hour longer than the trip up did.
By this time Rebecca was already in Denver, Colorado spending time with her best friend from India who had just returned from a tour in Venezuela.
We had lunch down the road at a custard stand that also sold hamburgers, hot dogs, and the Wisconsin favorite, deep fried cheese curds.
Then meandered across the street to take part in some challenging mini-golf. Seriously, this place had 3 courses with slides, tunnels, moving bits and loads of water hazards. It was a great way to stretch our legs.
We saw Grace's new apartment, a spacious yet cozy space for one. She was happy to have some company and it was good to see her happy and in a nice place.
Last Monday, as it happens, was my grandmother's 78th birthday. With us coming out, the whole family minus 2 cousins (both at work) gathered to see us for the afternoon, and thereby also spend the day with Babcia on her birthday.
My aunt provided a huge spread for lunch and the kids played with the football and badminton, gathered mulberries, and cooled off inside with games, cake and ice cream.
All the kids aside from my own are my cousins. I was 11 when my first cousin on this side was born, so they all range from 26 years down to 4 years old. My uncle has the majority of them, 10 of the kids are his and each one is wonderful with their own talents and interests. The older one on the bench wants to be a cryptozoologist and he talked Ian's ear off about his plans to find a living dinosaur.
These two were adorable together. Big Jonathon and Little Jonathan.
Babcia stole off with Katherine a bit for a walk and a chat.
My grandmother is an amazing person. I know people say that all the time for their family members, but it's true.
Born in 1933 in Poland, she and her family were corralled by invading Germans during WWII and moved from their family farm to a tiny village in Germany to work. My great-grandfather was good with horses, so he was tasked with caring for the horses of the military folk there, my grandmother worked in the gardens. My grandmother says they were treated relatively well in Germany, they had several rooms to live in, the area was nice, they didn't go hungry. The Germans they encountered were not cruel and so when the Allies arrived she and her family were well-prepared to make their way to America.
It was here in the U.S. that she met my Czech grandfather who had fought for the Polish army in WWII in Italy and North Africa, he was 17 years her senior. He died when I was a teen, from leukemia. They had 3 children and I was their first grandchild. I also knew my great-grandfather. A strong man who lived on his own until he died and always smelled of sweet pipe tobacco.
But that doesn't tell you much about my grandmother. She's sweet, so sweet she finds the good in everyone and if she doesn't have anything good to say she really does say nothing at all. She's funny, it still catches me by surprise (why is that?) when she passes off a joke in her heavily accented English. She's smart, she didn't have much in the way of formal education, but she knows stuff, lots of stuff. I would have done so much better had I, as a kid, paid more attention to her. She tried to teach me Polish, I fought and now I so wish I could speak it. She tried to teach me to crochet, I tolerated that better but it was only as an adult that I really took to it. She tried to teach me to bake and cook and sew and garden and prepare freshly caught fish, and I let it all slip away. I didn't appreciate her then the way I do now.
She sees all. I guess that comes with the territory of raising 3 kids full-time and knowing intimately a dozen grandkids. She's encouraging. She makes suggestions without being pushy, she's adventurous with just about everything. My folks take her on a trip every few years, the last one was her first time going back to Poland. We were supposed to meet up with them that trip, what better tour guide than a native speaker, where they also met up with all the extended family still living around Krakow. I know my kids wouldn't have appreciated the significance of that trip, but I would have.
She calls every few months just to say Hi and tell me about her latest activity whether it's a walk or a new watch or what my cousins are up to, and I look forward to hearing from her. My grandmother is amazing and I'm glad I know her.