Visiting my grandparents was a major event when I was a child. We made the trip only a few times a year since it meant cramming five kids and my parents into "Henry," our trusty 1938 Ford, then driving the better part of a day on winding, two-lane roads.
Our visit was never long enough and too soon we reluctantly prepared to return home. But even as we waved goodbye, there was something I still looked forward to. Before we left, my grandmother always went to the market and made up a "care package" for us to take home. It included a few pounds of ham, a cake and a package of real, fresh, sweet butter.
Ah, the butter! It tasted wonderful. In those post-World War II days, my family used colored oleo, a most unsatisfactory butter substitute. There was a time when margarine could be sold only white. It was an exciting day when the margarine came with a colored tablet to mix into the softened spread, producing a yellow, more buttery-looking appearance. However, if you were in a hurry and melted the oleo by overheating, it was a disaster. The resulting taste was awful, bitter and gritty. But we never wasted food and it had to be used. So that pound of butter was the first thing I looked for in Grandma's bundle when we got home.
I doubt if my grandmother had any idea how much that package meant, to me anyway. It may have been a small gesture for her, out of a desire to help her daughter's family. But it was also quite unselfish considering her own circumstances. My grandfather worked as a railroad crossing guard. An interesting job if you like trains, but it paid little for extras.
When my own children were small, another generation of grandparents, my in-laws and parents, extended their generosity to our growing family. We were counting every penny and rarely went out to eat. So it was always a pleasant surprise when the grandparents pulled into the driveway on a Sunday afternoon.
"C'mon kids," they would say. "Lets go for a ride." We might go to the Falls, Letchworth or Allegany, but invariably we ended up at a restaurant. My children loved it and I think their grandparents enjoyed it as much as we did.
Looking back now, I realize how much it meant to them to be able to give something to their family. It was about much more than just going out for a meal. It was an instance of grandparents reaching out to share, to give to their family.
And now the tradition has come full circle. When our grandchildren come to visit, our freezer is stocked with all their favorites, including every frozen dessert imaginable. The saying, "What goes around comes around," is usually used in a negative sense of someone getting their comeuppance for harm they've done. But in talking of grandparents, it has a much more positive meaning, describing a cycle of giving that a child learns and eventually passes on to another generation.
When my grandmother made us those packages, she hadn't just wrapped up a parcel of food. She also included a generous portion of love. I was quite young when we made those trips "down home" and unfortunately I don't recall very much about my grandmother. But I will always remember her thoughtfulness, her generosity and her spirit of giving, which continues from one generation of grandparents to the next.
Lucille Pleban, who lives in Cheektowaga, is happy to perpetuate the spirit of giving with her own grandchildren.