“What are you doing here?” secretary Kathy Perlis asked when I showed up at Luzerne County Community College on a beautiful July morning four years ago.

It’s said people go into teaching for three reasons: June, July and August. That’s not necessarily true, but true enough for my friend Kathy to be surprised at seeing me on campus in the middle of summer.

“I volunteered for something called Gramma Camp,” I told her, and when she asked, “What’s that, a summer camp for grandmothers?” I had to admit that very possibility had never dawned on me. You’d think an old newspaper guy would be more curious, but I had said “yes” to Gramma Camp without asking for any particulars. I just made plans to meet at the college to talk about journalism. “You don’t suppose a busload of senior citizens is going to pull up, do you?” I asked Kathy, only half-jokingly.

What did pull up a few minutes later was not a bus, but two minivans. And not a bunch of senior citizens, but just one. That one, I soon learned, was more than enough.

I’m not sure if Gramma Gail Abromovage invented Gramma Camp but she already had 11 of them under her belt when we met in 2017, so I suspect she may have. She said she told her three children (Brian, Heather and Lesley, who accompanied her that day at LCCC) that she wanted to know her grandchildren and, perhaps more importantly, she wanted them to know her, so for one week each summer, she wanted the kids all to herself (and her husband, of course, but this was more about her than him.) The kids were to be left at her home in Wyoming for an entire week. No parents. And especially no rules. Well, except, as Gramma Gail put it, “To be nice to each other and to have fun.”

Fun, according to Gramma Gail, meant, “If you want an ice cream sundae for breakfast, you get an ice cream sundae for breakfast. I’ll even put bacon on it if they want me to.”

But Gramma Camp also had an educational component, and that’s what led Gramma Gail and her seven grandchildren to me. Initially she sought a tour of The Citizens’ Voice, but I told her unless they wanted to stop by late at night to watch the press run, there wasn’t much to see. Don’t get me wrong, journalism is an exciting profession. But watching journalism in action is, well, boring.

I didn’t think Gramma Gail’s grandchildren would get excited about observing reporters talking on the phone and typing on keyboards.

Instead, I suggested, why not meet me at the college where I could whip up a hands-on experience. And that’s what we did.

Of the seven grandkids, only four had been to every Gramma Camp. Three were not yet born when Gramma Gail staged her first camp in 2006. They ranged in age from 8 to 17 and included Hope, Haden and Haley Williams (from the Stroudsburg area), and Michael and Christian Abromovage and Maddy and Sydney Ratchford, all from around here. Two things struck me that day: how engaged they all were in what we were doing and how the older kids kept the younger ones enthused. Never once did the teens reach for their cell phones. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any cell phones.

I took them into a computer lab and we proceeded to produce the front page of a newspaper. A newspaper about, what else, Gramma Camp. We called it “Grandma Camp Gazette.” We included a photo of the group that we took in front of the Advanced Technology Center and another (just for fun) of the matching painted toenails of Hope Williams and her Godmother Lesley Ratchford. We also included a “sidebar” of quotes about Gramma Camp from PaPa Abromovage, the kids’ favorites being “How much is this costing me?” and “Haven’t you all eaten enough?”

Eating is a hallmark of Gramma Camp and I got to experience this first hand. Gramma Gail brought an elaborate lunch which we ate at picnic tables on campus. Gramma Gail brought tablecloths, of course. The kids did the set-up and the clean-up, smiling and laughing all the while.

Those smiles and laughs found their way through tears Monday morning at Gubbiotti Funeral Home as the kids recalled their grandmother and told tales of Gramma Camp.

Gramma Gail died on July 5, four years to the day of our get-together at the college. She was only 71.

The grandkids all greeted me affectionately. They’d changed a lot physically in four years but were the same sweet kids I remembered. Perhaps there’s something to be said for ice cream sundaes for breakfast.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus