Dennis the Menace used to say, “If I wanted an elephant, my grandma would buy me an elephant.”
Which pretty much made Dennis’ grandma the gold standard of grandmothers.
Until there was Grandma Gail Abromovage.
When you hear about her creation, “Grandma Camp,” you’ll know why.
I became familiar with Grandma Gail and Grandma Camp by practicing what I preach, which is to try to say “yes” to any request. I do this because it seems to me a lot of people have “no” covered. I want to counteract that.
So when Grandma Gail’s daughter, Lesley Ratchford, approached me at Callahan’s on Main — that charming lunch room in the heart of town — and asked if I could try to set up a tour of The Citizens’ Voice for the kids attending something called “Grandma Camp,” I instinctively said I would without even asking, “What the heck is Grandma Camp?”
And I still didn’t ask when I called back to say a tour of The Voice was probably not a good idea. I checked into it with Managing Editor Dave Janoski and we both agreed that since there is no longer a printing press in The Voice building, there’s not much to see on a tour. Reporters sitting in front of keyboards and monitors is hardly the stuff of which lasting memories are made.
“But,” I said to Grandma Gail, still trying to make this encounter a “yes” experience, “maybe we can work out something at the college.” I meant, of course, Luzerne County Community College, where I’ve taught for the past 26 years.
I suggested she bring her group to the campus in Nanticoke and I’d take them into a computer lab/smart classroom and together we would create a front page of a newspaper. A front page all about them, photos and all.
Grandma Gail loved the idea.
But what exactly was this “Grandma Camp?”
I still had no clue as I stood in the lobby of the Advanced Technology Center awaiting their arrival. Some reporter am I.
Turned out it was not a bunch of grandmothers. Just one. One grandmother and seven grandchildren. And the grandmother’s daughter, the aforementioned Lesley. They pulled up in two vehicles.
Grandma Camp, I soon learned, is the ingenious invention of Grandma Gail, who several years ago (11 to be exact) told her three children she wanted to know her grandchildren and she wanted them to know her. She also wanted them to know each other, really know each other. So she suggested (demanded, might be a better word) that for one week each summer, all her grandchildren spend an entire week with her. No parents (save for Lesley, to a degree) allowed. Just Grandma and her grandkids. That’s it. Rules? Who needs rules?
“If there is a rule it is only to be nice to each other … and to have fun,” Grandma Gail says. “Aside from that, if you want an ice cream sundae for breakfast, you get an ice cream sundae for breakfast. I’ll even put bacon on it if they want me to”
Hear that, Dennis the Menace?
But don’t make the mistake of thinking chaos reigns here. Hardly. These were the best behaved, most completely engaged, happiest kids I’ve ever encountered. As we built our newspaper front page in a classroom I’m in most every day during the semester, I kept wishing my college students were this enthused.
There were seven grandkids in all, four of whom have been to every Grandma Camp: Hope, Haden and Haley Williams from the Stroudsburg area; and Michael and Christian Abromovage, and Maddy and Sydney Ratchford, all from around here. Ages ranged from 8 to 17. This I found significant because the older kids never once copped an attitude. There was no sign of: “This is so boring, where’s my cell phone?” And the younger ones never once got fidgety. This, I believe, can be attributed to how they interacted with each other. The “big kids” kept the “little kids” involved.
Hope, who just might have “ink in her veins,” as we say of naturally born journalists, directed the writing. At one point, she asked each of her sisters and cousins to describe Grandma Camp in one word. The results included: awesome, fun, entertaining, interesting, traditional — which drew some laughs, fattening — which drew even more laughs, and loving.
I taught them what a sidebar is — a little story related to a bigger one — and they put together one based on things Grandpa Abromovage, whom they call PaPa, says about the camp:
“How much is this costing me?”
“How many more days until Sunday?”
“Haven’t you all eaten enough?”
“Where’s the remote?”
Grandma Gail brought lunch for all, which we ate on picnic tables near the Educational Conference Center. Of course, she’d brought table cloths. We were the envy, we were sure, of every passerby. The grandkids, right down to the 8-year-old, shared all the chores — from set-up to clean-up, laughing and smiling the whole time.
No doubt these kids are well spoiled by Grandma Gail, but if this is how spoiled kids behave, let’s spoil all of them, every last one.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.