TITLE: A Grandma Date
By karen stapleton
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A grandma date
My son and his wife, Michele, are missionaries in the South Pacific on the islands of Vanuatu, and I had come for a visit. The family had been in the capital city of Port Vila, and we had two more days until we would leave for Tanna Island their home and the place they worked. Michele had so much to get done before our departure that Sierra, my granddaughter, and I offered to do some errands for her in town. My ulterior motive for volunteering –I wanted alone time with my only granddaughter.
“Grandma, since it is just you and me going into town this time; can we call this a Grandma date?” “Hannah, my friend, had a Grandma date when her grandmother was here.”
“Sierra, I like the sound of that. It is a lovely idea. A Grandma date it is.”
The sky was a pastel blue and cloudless, promising a hot day, so we started out early. We trudged up the hill to catch a bus and as we passed the salmon-colored Hibiscus bush, Sierra grabbed two flowers. She handed me one and popped the other into her mouth.
“Here Grandma, try this, they are good to eat.”
Not wanting to disappoint her I munched on the flower as we continued to the corner. The flower didn’t have much flavor, but it wasn’t unpleasant. How different things are here I thought.
Catching a bus is easy to do in Port Vila; we waited only a couple of minutes before a white van careened around the corner and made an abrupt stop beside us. Sticking my head in the window, I gave the driver the name of our first stop. He shook his head in the affirmative, and we jumped into the back of the van slamming the door behind us.
Our drive to the center of town was familiar and after ten minutes we found ourselves standing in front of Snoops, the only office supply store in these parts. Earlier I found a small box of water colors for John Mark, my grandson, and I wanted to purchase them before we left.
We made a beeline to the open air market in the center of town with a short list from Michele. We purchased a ripe yellow pineapple, two large taros, and a small bag of peanuts, which we shared on our way to the post office. The post office sits on the corner of Main Street. and is one of my favorite places in Vila. Inside I found racks of note cards. I like the photo picture cards of people and places in Vanuatu. I send them out when I get home, though I have to admit I hoard them and share them sparingly. There is a local artist whose art I could never afford, but I found note cards with her paintings, and I threw in a couple. Maybe I would frame them once home.
“Sierra, I think a Grandma date should include two things,” I said. “A special item bought just for you and food of course.”
Sierra smiled, and we found ourselves at the drugstore looking for the headbands she had been wanting. Since she couldn’t decide on one color I bought all three, and we headed across the street to Jill’s Café.
I’m partial to Jill’s because it is an American Café boasting hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes. There are also other American delights, such as chocolate fudge brownies.
“Sierra, you may pick whatever you like.”
“Anything I want?”
“Yes, my sweet girl, anything that strikes your fancy.” How fun is this? I thought as I witnessed the delight on her face.
To my surprise she picked a chocolate milkshake and a waffle. I ordered blueberry pancakes and a much anticipated cup of coffee. I missed my coffee. I learned quickly, that ordering a cup of coffee in Vanuatu meant I would get a single cup of coffee and no refills. When the semi-hot cup was set before me, I relished every sip, as I watched Sierra enjoying her milkshake.
“Grandma, can we get brownies for Mom and a lollipop for Joel?”
“We’ll do that and get cookies for your brothers too.”
She smiled, satisfied. Her thoughtfulness always blesses me. I sent up a prayer of thanks for this little girl and the memory we were making.
Sierra’s waffle came, a series of hearts forming a circle. A heart waffle, how appropriate! I thought. We spent the rest of our brunch talking girls’ stuff.
“We had better get home. Your mom will think we got lost.”
Standing on the curb we watched a dark blue van veer around the corner, skip two lanes, and stop directly in front of us.
“Shepard’s Gate?” I asked the driver.
Both he and his sidekick, the man in the passenger’s seat, nodded yes as they continued to gyrate to the beat of an old Bob Marley tune. We settled into the back seat of the empty van, expecting to head straight home. Our assumption was wrong; instead the driver turned in the opposite direction, headed up a strange hill, and made a stop at a school. In minutes the empty van was full of uniformed children. These Ni-Vanuatu children sat quietly not saying a word as the driver continued to bounce and drive in the direction opposite of our destination. Normally I would have no problem speaking up, but when one doesn’t speak the language, there are not words to say.
“Sierra, do you know this part of the city? Have you been here before?”
“No, I don’t know where we are at,” she responded.
My stomach began to hurt as I tried not to show panic. Maybe he had forgotten us back here, or maybe he didn’t know where The Shepard’s Gate was located. What if he dumps us on the side of the road, and we have to walk home? No cell phones here. I started to pray.
“I’m scared, Grandma.”
“It’s okay,” I said calmly, though I felt completely out of control.
“Let’s just wait a few more minutes and see what he does.”
The driver began to make stops and at each stop a child was met by a mom who greeted the driver and paid his helper. I was just getting ready to move forward and remind the driver of our destination when he turned a corner, and we both recognized a familiar landmark. It was the town cemetery with many graves piled high with flowers.
“I know where we are at now,” I said.
“We could even get off here and know how to get home,” Sierra said, relief in her voice.
Forty-five minutes later we found ourselves alone in the bus. The music was still blaring as our ride pulled up to our gate. Smiling widely, the driver took our money. He was completely unaware of our anxiety.
Sierra and I walked down the hill arm-in-arm, both relieved to be home.
Michele met us at the door, “Where have you been? I was getting worried.”
We shared our story, and she laughed.
“Yes, one of the hazards of riding the bus in Port Vila is you never know when you will be dropped off.”
A lesson anxiously learned.
“Thank you Grandma,” said Sierra. “Today was the best grandma date ever.”
Mission accomplished. I thought. We had been alone together, and made a memory we would not easily forget.
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