I stood in the airport, my eyes so full of tears that I could barely see my six-month-old grandson's face as I bent to kiss him one last time. My son, an air force career man, was being sent to Turkey, and he was taking his wife and baby with him. "He won't know me when you get back to the States," I said brokenly.
"Now, Mom," my son tried to comfort me. "It won't take you long to get reacquainted."
"How?" I wailed. "He won't even be able to understand a thing I say." I was referring to my heavy southern accent, which would be almost like a foreign language to little Damon when they returned in three years.
As the weeks passed, my self-pity turned into fierce determination. I would find a way to make a bond between me and my little grandson, no matter how many miles or how many oceans might stand between us. I bought a children's picture book, a blank cassette tape and a disposable camera.
I popped the blank cassette into the recorder and read the picture book aloud, using the same tone of voice and accents I would use if reading to a child. When I finished the story, I spoke a few words to Damon, ending with, "Always remember that Grandma loves you very much."
I had some friends take some snapshots of me doing routine, grandmotherly things such as baking and working in my flower beds. It was a friend who came up with the brilliant idea of including a picture of me reading the book in front of the recorder. When the pictures were developed, I sent the best ones, along with the book and the cassette, to my son and his wife.
I asked them to play the recording to Damon while they turned the pages of the book for him. I also asked them to show him the pictures of Grandma whenever they read this particular book to him.
A couple of months later, I bought another book, another blank cassette, another disposable camera and repeated the process. Every few months Damon would receive a new story package from Grandma. By the time he was a toddler, my son reported, at bedtime he would often demand a story "from Grandma across the ocean."
It was an inexpensive way to keep Damon familiar with my face and my southern drawl. And it created a wondrous, strong bond between us even though there were many miles and months separating us.
Almost three years later, I stood nervously in the airport, waiting for my son and his family to disembark. Would Damon recognize his Grandma in the flesh and blood? Thus far, I had merely been a funny voice on a cassette tape and a face in a snapshot.
They came through the gate, Damon clutching his mother's hand. He saw me first. Breaking away from my daughter-in-law, he ran toward me, crying out exuberantly, "It's Grandma!" I stooped to catch him in my arms. He looked up at me, little face beaming. "You're my Grandma!" he exclaimed. He grabbed my hand and began to pull me toward his parents. "It's Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!"
The word tugged at my heart and warmed my soul. I would never, ever tire of hearing it.