Since I was traveling to Washington, D.C. for a Monday-Tuesday work trip, I reached out to my “Grannie Annie” in Newport News, Virginia, near Norfolk, to arrange a quick visit the weekend prior. Ann was my mom’s stepmother for a few years during my mom’s childhood, but she and my grandfather Cavanaugh eventually divorced and she later married Arthur. My own mother was a single mom for a few years when my sister and I were very young and we didn’t have a lot of extended family. Grannie Annie and Arthur–now Gramps, to us–essentially adopted us as grandchildren and my sister and I spent years visiting them annually for two weeks at a time (we weren’t the only adopted grandchildren, either). Over time the visits got less frequent, but we remained in touch, and I even flew to see them once during winter break in college. Then in 2010, when I was in graduate school, I joined them on a group tour of Scotland they were leading (see this post!). However, since then I had only seen them one other time, and sadly Gramps passed away a little over a year ago at age 93.
Their home was a cozy and magical place to visit, like something out of a storybook. Their love of Scottish culture–Gramps even played and taught the bagpipes–is evident in every nook and cranny. I remember playing games like Pick-up Sticks and Monopoly in their den (pictured above), climbing the tree in the front yard, and Grannie Annie reading us Sherlock Holmes and Around the World in Eighty Days before bed, her narration elegant, melodic. We’d visit museums, see movies at the IMAX, and play on the beach. When I stayed with them as a college student, they had public radio playing constantly, watched BBC shows, spoke animatedly about local politics, and took me to a nice dinner where a historian extolled the history of a local battleship. Gramps had been slightly intimidating when I was a kid, a little strict and prone to saying sharply in his New York accent, “Oh for cryin’ out loud.” When I visited in college I saw right through the sly, gruff exterior and felt instantly at home with him; that’s his portrait on the wall, pictured below. He was healthy and extremely active right up until he suffered a stroke and passed away a few days later. Meanwhile, Grannie Annie writes and sings, is a member of multiple book clubs, travels (she’s leading another tour group in Scotland next month!), audits college courses, and is no doubt engaged in many other local groups and activities. As a child, I knew there was something special about visiting them, and as an adult, I have been inspired by the way Grannie Annie and Gramps embraced their passions, engaged in their community, and continued to pursue learning.
With all that said, it was lovely to get to see Grannie Annie again, to reminisce, walk on Buckroe Beach, drink tea at the kitchen table, and catch up on what one another’s life is like now. (Of course I eagerly told her all about the British detective shows I watch these days, especially a recent favorite set in Scotland, Shetland.) And I was thankful to visit the home, itself, and be once again be enveloped in its spirit.