When I was in first grade, the LaFleur family moved in next door. Mary and Chris LaFleur quickly became fast friends and for the period of about a year we were inseparable. Then their family moved to Georgia, but we tried as best as we could to stay in touch. Throughout our childhood years they moved two more times, but we always kept in touch. One of the things that helped us keep our friendship so strong was the fact that they still had family back home in Baton Rouge.
Every summer Mary and Chris would come and stay with their Grandmother and Grandfather. Thinking back on it now, they may have only stayed for a few weeks, or even a month, but in my mind it was the entire summer, because that WAS my summer as far as I was concerned. Spending time at their Grandparents house was like a magical wonderland. We had more fun and did more stuff in that brief period of time than was humanly possible. I practically lived out there while Mary and Chris were in town.
One of the things that made is so special was Mary and Chris’ Grandparents. They gave us such a loving and safe environment in which to just be kids. I didn’t grow up with Grandparents, so this was a unique opportunity for me. My Mother’s parents died when I was too young to remember and my Father’s parents didn’t have much to do with me, especially after my parent’s divorce, but that’s a whole other story. Suffice to say that I loved going to visit Mary and Chris when they were in town.
One thing I distinctly remember and sticks out in my mind even today, is that Grandma LaFleur always had a freezer stocked with frozen treats. Fudge pops, ice cream sandwiches, screwballs, popsicles, you name it. It was like having your very own personal Ice Cream Man. The best part was that she would let you eat as much as you wanted. To this day, I can’t eat an ice cream sandwich without thinking back on those times. Throughout the hot summer day, we’d wander in and snatch a quick treat; refreshed, we’d dash back out into the July heat to explore some new area of the back field.
Mary and Chris’ Grandparents had a ton of property. There were several fields as well as woods and an old house that we could play in. We’d go on “safari” out into the woods in search of weird wild stuff. Of course as soon as we heard something that spooked us, like something as benign as a dog barking, we’d high tail it out of there. 🙂 In later years, we’d take over the back house and setup an entire “City” inside of it. I would run a cafe, which served Ritz crackers with aerosol cheese. Mary would setup a bar, called the “Cubby Hole”, where she’d serve all sorts of strange concoctions. Her signature drink was “The Big Bomb”. She’d mix up several soft drinks, milk and orange until the entire drink was grey. Of course that’s the drink that we’d all drink to prove that we were tough or cool. Chris would create a disco in the back bedroom and we’d help him cover the bedposts and other furniture with aluminum foil to help add ambiance to “his club.”
Each and every day, we’d walk Grandma LaFleur through her old house and give her a tour of our little town. Each day she’d smile, laugh and act like it was the first time she’d ever been through this tour – even though it may have been her 50th. She’d order the “special”, have a glass of Coke and then watch our show as we performed in Chris’ disco, lip syncing to whatever was popular at the time. I can still she her sitting in a chair clapping and smiling as we jumped around hollering “Putting On The Ritz” in the dimly lit room.
Although we had plenty to occupy our time there at the Grandparent’s house, sometimes we’d want to go see a movie, or play video games at the arcade. Grandma would pile us into her black VW Bug and drive us wherever we “needed” to go. Even though she’d seen the same movie that we had, we’d tell her all about it on the drive home. All three of us would be in the back seat laughing and giggling and just being kids.
And that’s what stands out when I remember Grandma LaFleur. Her love for us was unyielding and without judgement. I wasn’t even one of her own grand kids, but she made me feel as if I was. She was never judgmental. Whatever we did was great and she seemed genuinely proud of everything we were involved in, no matter how silly it was. Maybe everyone’s Grandmother was like this. I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that she became my Grandmother simply by accepting me as who I was and loving me anyway. 🙂
Even though I would get busy with soccer games and trumpet recitals throughout the rest of the year, ever summer I would return to “Grandma’s House” and re-connect with her and my two best friends in the world.
Even years later, after I had graduated from college and was on a bicycle tour of Europe, I would write letters telling her of my travels and where I was off to next. To me, I was just writing letters to my Grandmother. Hoping that she would still get a kick of hearing about what I was up to.
When Chris moved back to Baton Rouge, I had more opportunities to visit with her when I’d go over to Chris’ house to pick him up, or just hang out. Grandma LaFleur was always eager to catch up with what was happening and was always at the ready to fix me something to eat. She had a ton of “get-up-and-go” and she never seemed to want for anything. I can’t remember a single time where she asked to to help her with something. It was always the other way around.
Eventually I moved to Nashville and I’ve had fewer opportunities to touch base with her. I’m not much of a letter writer, so most of my conversations have been through Chris. “Tell your Grandma I said hi!” and that sort of thing. I wish I had made more of an effort, because last Wednesday, my Grandma passed away. She was 94. She lived a full life and given her recent health, it didn’t come as a surprise. That doesn’t make her departing any less sad. I live several States away and I’m not a family member, so I found out too late to fly down and attend the service. I guess this is my way mourning and sharing just how much she meant to me.
Ruby LaFleur was as close to a Grandmother as I’m ever going to know. She was a huge impact on my upbringing and I think helped make me the man I am today. I may not have been family, but she never made me feel that way. She was loving, kind and had one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known. I am forever grateful and blessed that she let me call her Grandma.