My husband has always come up with wonderful family vacation ideas for us. In past years we've snorkeled in Hawaiian waters, climbed the peaks of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and eaten lunch with princesses at Disneyworld.
So when he suggested we travel to Florida to visit his parents at a retirement community for snowbirds, even though I had my hesitations, I agreed. He convinced me our daughters, Abby, 8, and Ava, 6, could find plenty to do, and his spotless track record lent him some credibility.
As we followed the citrus and palm trees that lined the narrow road leading into the community, we became excited. But as we passed rows of shuffleboard courts, my confidence began to waiver. And by the time we drove past the swimming pool, which held nearly a dozen bobbing white-haired heads and I suspected, had never seen a cannonball, I became very worried.
I didn't need to be, though. As his parents introduced us to their friends on the block, something interesting happened.
These strangers asked the girls questions about school and listened intently to their answers.
They captivated them with the kinds of stories that only people with years of experience know.
These folks missed their own grandkids, hundreds of miles away, and were using ours in a way. And our kids, who see their grandparents up north just a few times a year, we're using them, too.
Those bobbing heads in the pool became like a group of grandmas, using noodles to pull the girls around like a floating train.
One gentleman helped the girls catch minnows in a plastic bag at the nearby pond.
Near the end of the trip, I realized my husband had taken us to a kind of grandparent-land. Fortunately, these kinds of opportunities exist back home, too.
Just ask Pam Clark, life enrichment coordinator for Concord Place, an assisted living community in town. Over the years, she's watched Boy Scout troops and church groups form relationships similar to the bond between grandparents and grandchildren.
Sometimes, the encounters are occasional, like the teenage girls who come every so often with polish to paint the ladies' nails.
Other times, long-term friendships result, like with the Murray girls, daughters of Kristy and Galen Murray of Walter Drive N.W. in Concord. Harley, Kathryn, Ally, Joanna and Jordan have been visiting a dozen ladies at Concord Place for six years. Every other week, they come to talk, make crafts and eat cookies. The girls' grandparents live out of town, and they don't get to visit often. The Murrays home school their children and belong to Cabarrus County Home School Association, which requires members to perform a job/service project. They chose these visits six years ago, but it eventually grew into friendships.
"I like listening to their stories," said Harley, 11, who was 5 when she first crawled up on Geraldine Ford Scott's lap.
"Their little voices, oh, they're just so sweet," said Scott, who often hears the girls coming down the hall to her room.
"I do think of them as grandchildren," said Shelby Huneycutt, whose room is dotted with picture frames of each girl.
They may not be related, but the attachment is the same, including the bragging rights.
"They are so pretty. They are so well-mannered," said Huneycutt, who pauses, then smiles and adds, "They are so smart."