Growing up with Grandma — a Midland treasure

Contributing Writer Contributing WriterMay 27, 2013 

At 93, Mary Frink tends her yard on her riding mower.


My 93-year-old grandmother can’t hear me over the rumble of the riding lawnmower she’s perched upon.

“Grandma. Grandma! Mary Frink!”

She smiles widely and cuts the engine when my wild waving catches her attention. Keen blue eyes twinkle expectantly from behind well-worn safety glasses. She’s happy to see me, but this better be good. She has a job to do.

Growing up in Midland across the street from my father’s mother was something that I took for granted most of my life. Out of eggs? No problem. My sister and I would trot over to our own personal general store.

Wandering Grandma’s property, we’d spy on the ducks, greet the dogs, water a rosebush and check on the progress of a perm in Mary’s Beauty Shop. Then our arms would be loaded with rhubarb pie, canned peaches, and instructions to remind mom and dad to put out the trash.

Finally returning home, we’d be promptly sent back. Forgot the eggs!

Impatient for independence even at 4, I’d often stuff my backpack with PJs and appear unannounced on her doorstep. An overnight at Grandma’s was the farthest my fledgling wandering spirit could fathom. She and I chatted for hours in the safe haven of her kitchen as she entertained any topic my 4-, 6-, 9-year-old self could conjure.

I always slept on “my” side of her bed, and diving in, I ran my hand under the pillow, locating the stash of Kleenex I knew was there. Our nighttime routine consisted of leg exercises as we kicked our feet in the air to maintain our flexibility, followed by deep breathing.

“It helps you sleep!” Grandma claimed. We’d inhale simultaneously until our chests nearly burst, then whoosh! Wise move, Mary Frink; I’d be out by round three.

A few hours later, I’d whisper, “Grandma?” into the dark. We both knew the drill. Out of bed we’d climb, shuffling to the kitchen in our nighties. Our feet stuck to the worn amber linoleum as she warmed Midnight Milk for my “unexpected” stroke of insomnia.

A particularly bad bout would earn me one Tylenol crushed in a spoon; for years I believed it was a sleeping potion. The elixir I truly craved, however, was that magical moment “between sleep and awake”: Grandma and I huddled together in the glow of the stove light as the rest of the world slumbered, unaware.

Now I understand what a precious gift my sister and I have been given. My grandma is my BFF, confidante, cheerleader and champion — my hero. A few years ago, she was even my roommate, the best I’ve ever had.

“You going to wear that?” she’d laugh at my short skirt, then send me out the door with a plate of eggs and bacon.

“Did you really pay for those?” she’d balk, eyeing my holey jeans in bewilderment.

It didn’t matter. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Grandma Don’t Judge.

She never batted an eye at my impassioned schemes, whether it was to move out of state, dye my hair or change majors yet again. Mary Frink is practical; she wants the brass tacks. Will you have to change your driver’s license? Will it look good with your skin tone? Who will you become with that?

“Oh, Melissa,” she laughs at the end of my latest frenetic spiel. Oh, Grandma. What would I do without you?

Although I don’t live across the street anymore, or even in the room down the hallway, the one adorned with knicknacks from the 1970s and sepia photographs of her sons, I frequently wander in without warning, just as I always have. I rap unabashedly on the windows when she doesn’t come to the door; I know she’s there.

If the sun is shining, I instinctively prowl her two acres, my own personal Neverland, following the determined whir of a weed-wacker or scanning the ground for signs of upturned dirt. I know I will discover her somewhere in the lovingly tended garden. I know I will be greeted with pomp and pleasure, as though I were a visiting dignitary.

And I know I will think to myself, as always, “I wish I lived here still.”

Melissa Frink is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. She lives in North Tacoma with her feline daughter, Moxie Moo Frink. She has no human children at this time. Email her at melissa.j.frink@

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