One week each summer from the age of six until I was ten, I spent a week at my grandma's. She seemed so far away, a whole hour back in Deer River. She lived on Hanson Lake in the house her first husband had built. My sister got a week also, so we each got a two week break from each other.
The first night was always awkward. Grandma had fewer rules than I had at home but I was always tentative and a little afraid. I slept in an upstairs room and it was strange. The smell was comforting, but different and after living in a trailer, even a small house seemed large when it had an upstairs and a basement.
It might have been the different noises or because Amber wasn't there guard me until I slept, but that first bedtime was always hard. There were Peanuts books by Charles Shultz in the room and while I barely remembered the rest of the surroundings, those books were comforting.
The next morning there were always Leo's pancakes. Leo was my grandpa, but we called him Leo. Later, I understood that he was my Grandma's second husband and he never wanted to be seen as trying to take Grandpa's place. I never met my Maternal or Paternal grandfathers, both died before I was born.
Leo was grandpa enough that I never felt like I missed anything. His pancakes were delicious and unlike anything else I'd ever tasted. I had an important job watching the light on the grill and took it very seriously. More like a cross between a crepe and a typical pancake with bacon grease as critical ingredient, I put down more than my share. They also made their own syrup, the traditional way in a large pan outside on an open fire. The whole family would visit during maple syrup season and I would walk through the woods with Grandma checking and collecting buckets of the sap and when it snowed, Leo would make us hard maple syrup candy right from the pan.
They had a real bar in the family room and Leo would take my order like I was a grownup and serve up my kiddy cocktail with the flair of a real bartender. He was a gifted story teller and a man of mystery, with strange gravity defying devices carved from wood like tops and a thing that would suspend a belt on the edge of the table and bounce as if suspended by a magnet. He also polished stones and I loved to look at all them and touch their smooth surfaces.
Hanson Lake was a magic place. Near the dock there were large rocks that could be peeled off in sheets and almost seen though. Closer to the water, giant bullfrogs hid in the tall grass. Leo said he would cook up the legs if I caught one. I caught a few but let them go.
Grandma would take me fishing on the lake. First we would go get supplies. I would always get a toy from the store by the lake and usually lose it before I returned home. One year we got Worm in a Can Cola. The top had two holes, one to drink from and one to let in air. We would gather earthworms from the rich soil and go out near the lily pads and bobber fish for sunnies and then eat them that night, either in a cornbread or beer batter. Nothing tasted better.
One winter we were there when Grandma got a bunch of chicks. We played with them for hours; they were so cute and yellow. That next summer I got to see them all grown up. Grandma collected eggs and we went out to the pen one night before dinner.
"Pick one out."
I couldn't really recognize them all grown up but I convince myself I knew which one had been my favorite and I pointed it out. She picked it up and carried it back to the house. Halfway there, she stopped at a stump, grabbed the bird by the neck and swung it around snapping its neck with a quick twitch of her wrist. I stood by, eyes big and unable to speak. She chopped off its head and gutted it quick, handing me a foot so I could see how the claws opened and shut when you pulled on the tendons. Then she showed me how to pluck it and I helped. By the time it came out of the oven, I was done with my silent mourning.