Beginning in the ’80s, Chub and I invited our four grandsons to visit us on alternate weeks during the summer. Oliver was 4, Peter was 6 and Cole and Sam were 7; Sam was in summer school, but he came often. We invited some neighbor children occasionally, and our friend Beth Peeler helped with the youngsters when I was busy in the kitchen. She and the kids liked climbing up high on stacks of hay bales in the barn, and she’d read stories. Sometimes they hiked down to a place where water trickled across our driveway. They would wade or throw rocks into the puddle to watch them splash. They’d float dead leaves and watch them disappear in the little waterfall below the roadbed. Chub went on with his farm work most of the day, and the boys were usually busy covering our dog with damp sand by the time their parents came at 5:30 to take them home. Old Rosie enjoyed that sand treatment as much as did the boys. We called these regular visits "Granny’s Day Camp." Beth moved away, and I managed alone or employed a neighbor fellow or girl to help as a "coach."
We combed the farm for new and interesting things to see and do. When we hiked, Oliver - the youngest - carried the referee’s whistle, "in case someone gets lost from me." Peter and Sam carried a camera, a first-aid kit and something to eat - usually oranges or apples. Cole was the leader, carrying water and other supplies. I’d take a small box to carry the special rocks, feathers or other things the boys wanted to keep.
When I’d ask "Who’d like to go on a tiger hunt?" they knew exactly what that meant. If I said "Desert Island today," they knew I meant a place where a small branch meanders from the county road’s big metal culvert, around and back through a second culvert. We’d divide into two gangs to go through different culverts and follow the creek till we met at a sandbar. We’d build a fire and cut sticks to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. The "Grand Canyon" was a gully created when a bulldozer changed the course of our creek. Surprisingly, no one ever experienced the terrible itch and rash of poison ivy!
The guys gradually became self-reliant. I’d take them in the van and turn them loose in the woods, and they’d come back promptly when I honked. When we welcomed my three new stepgrandchildren to day camp, Tim, Jennifer and Christopher Graham already liked hiking, fishing and bonfire meals. Everybody liked tent camping, cooking biscuits on sticks and freezing ice cream.
Suddenly Granny’s Day Camp kids graduated and were grown! Christopher Graham is a local professional musician, Jennie is a senior at Columbia College, and Tim is completing two years of chef’s training in Vermont and Wisconsin. Oliver Gerard is in his second year at Iowa State University, Cole graduated from NYU and works in New York City, and Peter studies at Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland. A year ago all of us attended the wedding of Brianne Rovetar and Sam Russell near Chicago; the Russells are now parents of beautiful Fionn Nan Russell, my first great-grandchild!
For three wonderful days in September, the "day campers" returned to the farm to hike, camp, freeze ice cream and bake biscuits on sticks one more time. Remembering, we reluctantly hugged - then they were gone. Their wanting to return at this time put a tear of gladness in this old Granny’s eye.