A new role

Jim and I joined millions of other Americans and hit the road for the long Labor Day weekend. Our destination: South Dakota to visit some of his family.

Visits to "the heads" -- aka Mount Rushmore -- or Crazy Horse weren't on the agenda; we've done that tourist trip more times than we can count. Instead, we spent precious time with precious relatives.

We hung out at the ranch, where we were treated by Jim's sister Sue to heaping dishes of homemade potato salad, cucumber pickles (yum!), watermelon, cantaloupe, corn on the cob, juicy ribs, pork steaks, burgers and more, all served with a generous side of great (and sometimes goofy) conversation.

We visited with Granny, who took leave from the nursing home for a few hours each day and who, at times, looked a little more like the pre-stroke Granny we remember.

We were invited to an impromptu, BYOB garage concert by a band of jovial elderly guitar gurus, picking and a strumming away on tunes they've likely played for more years than I've been alive. The highlight of the show was when their young drummer, a gorgeous and soft-spoken gal of 21, picked up her own guitar and belted out songs eerily reminiscent of Janis Joplin. This slight little thing from small town South Dakota outperformed every up-and-coming musician I've ever seen or heard on America's Got Talent or American Idol. Keep your eyes and ears open for this sure-to-be-a-star named Kristen.

And we were surprised to find our relatives were fellow fans of HGTV's Design Star -- and we all gathered in front of the TV Sunday evening to watch another nail-biting episode and find out which of the wannabe designers would be the most recent to have their show canceled. (You go, Antonio!!)

But one of the main things Jim and I did over the weekend was get a little more practice at one of our newest roles in life. Because we'd taken the trip without any of our kids, we weren't Mom and Dad, we weren't Grandma and Grandpa. There was no child -- young or adult -- who was immediately related to us nor for which we were responsible for their well-being, happiness, contentment or questions. Nope, we were simply Aunt Lisa and Uncle Jim. And Great Aunt Lisa and Great Uncle Jim. In fact, with the littlest one there being the baby of Jim's great nephew, we were even GREAT Great Aunt Lisa and GREAT Great Uncle Jim.


And we loved every minute of it! We felt privileged to be a part of the holiday weekend goings on of Jim's sister and her husband, along with three of their sons and wives and families of youngsters -- which included a few of the teen and early adult variety, who probably wouldn't appreciate being called youngsters.

Our greatest joy in life is being parents and grandparents, but Jim and I are finding that it's also nice, every once in a while, to take a back seat and just be the background relatives, the ones that are not main players in a child's life -- but can still be a worthy competitor in a mean round of thumb wrestling. We don't always have to be the one answering to "Mom" or "Dad" or blowing out a sizzling marshmallow before it falls off the stick. Or keeping the tummies filled and the necessary naptimes on the agenda.

Of course, being ever the grandma, I did get a few pointers to add to my bag of tricks for that role, though. I learned from Grandma Sue that colored tin cups are great to have around when several grandkids visit at once so they each have one to claim for the visit and that mini boxes of breakfast cereal make super, portable snacks for the kiddos. And I learned from nephew Justin how to make a campfire starter from cotton balls and Vaseline so the marshmallow roasting can quickly get underway.

I hope you all had an equally enjoyable -- and enlightening -- Labor Day weekend!