Travels with Grandma: She’s old and she doesn’t know what she’s doing

I didn’t expect to write another blog about Grandma this soon, but she’s coming home from Texas on Saturday (the lady is a travelin’ fool) and she’s on my mind.

We went to Winterthur together in the fall a couple of years ago. It was just me, the hub, and Grandma.

Winterthur is the Delaware country estate (although it’s not really in the country anymore) of Henry Francis duPont (1880-1969).

You may have heard of the duPonts, and their problems with mental illness (like John? The one who killed the Olympic wrestler about ten years ago? Yup: he’s from the clan). That sort of thing often comes with scads of money, which is why I’m so glad that I’m not in that position. Although scads of money would buy quite a bit of psychotherapy. And a really good lawyer, if needed.

Anyway, speaking of mental illness, Henry Francis was a little nutty in his own way. Right after he marries Ruth Wales in 1916, he gets a hankering for American antiques. A lot of antiques. There were/are 85,000 items that were either used or made from 1640 to 1860 in the house. And not just little things, like a china bowl here or a spinning wheel there. He buys, like, whole rooms. Seriously. For instance, one day he learns that some history hating developer (yes, they were around even back then) is tearing down an old house in Chestertown, Maryland, so HFdP buys the house and then reconstructs the living room in his own house (he more than doubled the size of his house during his lifetime. You can’t even see the whole house on one tour–you have to take about four different tours to see all the rooms). So he’s got the paneling, the window surrounds, and an amazing fireplace that were made in the 1700’s all in his growing estate.

This is what else money can do: HFdP fell for some Chinese, hand-painted wallpaper from the 1700’s, so he built a room just so he could wallpaper it and show off his latest acquisition. HTG generally starts with the room, and then I buy stuff to put inside it. That always made sense to me, but I guess things are different when you only buy things if you can use a 20% off coupon from Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Henry Francis didn’t even live in most of the rooms; he considered them a museum from the get-go. I’m sure that wasn’t a lot of fun for his two daughters, but there was plenty of room to play around in even without access to Daddy’s “museum” rooms.

One place I’m sure they hung out was the mansion’s gorgeous grounds. As I said, we went in the fall, and the dropping leaves were still pretty colors as we walked around the fountains and bricked patios. It was the end of the day, and everyone was gone.

As we’re walking through the gardens, Grandma decides to pick a flower and stick it in her hair. Now, there are tons of signs everywhere that say “Do not pick the flowers”. Tons. In fact, she had tried to pick a flower earlier in our walk, and I had stopped her (I’m a little weird about following directions). Besides, I have seen some of these historic home museum security guys, and they’re big knots of anger in a uniform–furious because they lost out on that neat mall cop job. They are just the type to whack a little Italian lady with a karate chop to the neck, then take her tiny lifeless body to the pokey like some kind of prize.

So I tell her, “Grandma…you can’t pick the flowers. What are you going to do if someone catches you?”

She looked right at me and said, “I’ll tell them that I’m old and I don’t know what I’m doing.” She said it so seriously, as if she had been plotting this out for some time now. She pulled the age card on me, and I had nothing to come back with.

Our entire family uses that excuse all the time now, whether the speaker is seven or seventy. And Grandma always laughs when she hears us, because she knows that she owns that phrase. She sounds a little crazy when she laughs like that.

Crazy like the duPonts. Maybe it was something in the water up there.