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The Beauty of “Camp Grandma.” My Summer Memories. New Traditions for My Kids

Growing up black in America, at least the northeast part of it, usually meant that during the summer you would venture “down south” to visit grandma, aunties, uncles and other family members.  And my life was no different. Every summer, shortly after school let out, we’d pack in the car and pull out around midnight for the 13-hour drive to my Granny’s house in South Carolina.  This was our summer routine. Our family tradition.

On the way down, my father would remind us to say hello to everyone on the street. He would remind us to use Mam and Sir for older adults, and to always say Yes and No. No head nodding or shoulder shrugging allowed. 

I’m pretty sure I was pretty close to college age, before I experienced the 4th of July holiday anywhere else but from Sumter, South Carolina and even to this day, watching Wimbledon from anywhere but my Granny’s living room on her floor model TV, just doesn’t feel right.

As we got older, my parents would stay and visit for a week or two and then leave my older sister and I in South Carolina for a few weeks. We were two city girls thrust into southern life.

During those summers, my Granny would take us to her farmland where we picked peas. Then we would shell them while sitting on the front porch listening to her tell us stories. During those summers, we learned to crochet and made more pot holders than any human could use during their lifetime.

One summer we did latch hook rug kits, that my Granny proudly framed and hung in her living room like Picassos. We went fishing, we took walks.  She rented bikes for us for the summer. And then my Granny would take us deep into the country, where people lived tucked behind cornfields and at the end of long dirt roads to meet fourth cousins, family centegenarians, and other relatives we never knew. We learned to sit quietly and listen to old folks talking—all excellent training that was part of my childhood summer experience.  And every year, like clockwork, we’d cry as we left Granny’s house, even when we were really too old to still cry and even as we watched her cry as she waved us out of the driveway. It was part of our summer tradition. 

 Over the last few years since my parents relocated back to South Carolina (I'm still not over it) , my children have been having a summer tradition of their own. I call it “Camp Grandma”—my kids spend two or three weeks with my mom and dad at their home.

Of course, the fact that I get a month-long break every summer is the headline that gets all the oohs, aahhs, and sometimes a ‘how could you?” glance. I just ignore those. As a divorced mom, I appreciate the gift of some free time to recoup, and I make no apologies or hold no regrets about dumping, er, I mean dropping my kids off to my parents’ every summer.

More importantly, I get excited by the experience my children are having.  They go fishing with their granddad. Bake brownies and do arts and crafts with grandma. When I went to go pick them up from South Carolina last week and spend a few days with my parents, I watched them recognize at least five different types of trees on sight (Magnolias are their favorite), I listened to all their stories, what they learned visiting farms and feeding horses. I listened to their latest “Grandma-isms” and all the things about life their grandparents taught them.  

When we drove down to the “country”, I saw their pride as my Dad drove them through his old hometown pointing out the old movie theater where he had to enter upstairs in the “Colored” section and the look on their faces when we saw the street sign, bearing the Seals name, that sits on the family land that was given to my great, great grandfather when he was freed as a slave. I was so proud of my children when they sat respectfully in hot living rooms while we visited with 90 plus-year-old family matriarchs.  And my visits to South Carolina are still not complete unless I visit my Granny’s gravesite and sense her presence (I gave my Granny’s name, Rebecca, to my daughter as a middle name).


The road sign at the edge of the Seals family land

And when the children and I left South Carolina, and my children doubled back for a third round of good bye hugs and kisses from Grandma and Grandpa, I knew exactly why. I saw myself in their lives.

Yes, to everyone who asks, I really enjoy my annual month off from motherhood. And yes, there is usually a party involved!  But what happens for my children during that month, makes the break even more enjoyable.   


3 Responses to “The Beauty of “Camp Grandma.” My Summer Memories. New Traditions for My Kids”
  1. HM says:

    Wow, this seemed like a page straight outta my memory book! I grew up in Harlem with mom and grandma, and we would head down to Manning and Sumter, SC (and Pinewood and Paxville) to visit great-grandmas Carrie and Susie May, my grandmother and grandfather’s mothers, respectively. I don’t have children yet, and mom has no plans to move to SC, but they’ll go down and visit with aunts and uncles for sure. Thanks so much sharing!

    • Kimberly says:

      Girl, I was in Manning and Summerton last week! And I’ve definitely been to Pinewood. We might be distant cousins LOL!…def great memories and definitely worth recreating for your future children. Thanks for sharing!

  2. HM says:

    By the way, I see that you went from Queens to Bay Shore. We went from Harlem to Uniondale. Then, I left for school, and permanently relocated.

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