Travels with Grandma

Travels with Grandma

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Travels with Grandma

Not a sentence or word is independent of the circumstances under which it is uttered.

Alfred Lord Whitehead

My daughters, Linda and Leslie, never called my mother anything but Honie. Mother announced early on that she was much too young to be a grandmother, and Honie was the closest derivative of her name Helen, so Honie she was to all of us.

Honie was an inveterate traveler, and fortunately for us, she derived great pleasure from taking us on her journeys. Although Linda was fifteen and Leslie was twelve and I was thirty-five, Honie always referred to the three of us as “her girls” and treated us as if we were all the same age.

And on her trips, since she was well read and very knowledgeable about everywhere her travels took us, we all acted childlike. No matter what the country, every morning Honie would determine our destination and our destiny for the day, and we would follow like dutiful little ducklings wherever she led. For one so small (she was barely five feet tall) she was a born leader and not to be deterred in whatever she determined to achieve.

Her notion of speaking a foreign language was to speak English very slowly, very loudly and act out the words as one might in the game of charades. We would stand aside as she went through her convolutions, and although we might risk a whispered “Is it bigger than a breadbox?” we generally shut up and let her elicit whatever answers she could with her dramatic efforts.

Our first Sunday in Lisbon, she approached a Portuguese gentleman on the street, pulled on his sleeve, pointed to the heavens, then folded her hands in supplication and said, “God—pray, God—pray?” The gentleman looked at her quizzically, and then as the light dawned, responded, “You want a church, lady?”

Honie beamed in pleasure as he pointed out the nearest church and went on his way. She had already mastered Portuguese. We rolled our eyes in despair and followed her into the church, not sure whether to pray for indulgence or beg for forgiveness.

In our week’s stay at the Avenida Palace, there was scarcely a morning that she did not have a request for the front desk, and to their credit, they were always tolerant and usually accommodating.

One morning as we rode down to the lobby in the big iron elevator, Honie was doing her usual “tch, tch,” as she decried the fact that European hotels “never, ever, ever supplied washcloths” and announced that she would just stop by the front desk to request three for the next morning. Approaching the desk clerk, she said slowly and distinctly, “Excuse me, but we . . . don’t have . . . any . . . ,” and folding her hand into a ball, she vigorously scrubbed her cheek.

“Soap?” he asked.

She shook her head in irritation. “No, no, washcloths.”

“Ah,” he nodded knowingly. “I will see to it, señora.”

Mission accomplished, we were off to Nazare for a day of exploring. The next morning she informed us once again that she needed to stop at the front desk.

Timorously we followed and waited while she informed the clerk that we were out of Kleenex in our bathroom. This request included placing her hand over her nose, saying “achoo” several times and wiping her nose. Now it was the clerk’s turn to roll his eyes, but he acknowledged her request and we were on our way.

The next morning we were halfway across the lobby and almost out the door when Honie stopped us. “Just a minute, girls. I need to tell the desk clerk that we’re out of toilet paper.”

The picture of how she might dramatize that request was more than any of us could face. We were out the door in a flash, leaving Honie to face the clerk on her own. There is a limit to what even the most dutiful ducklings will endure.

Phyllis W. Zeno

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