Grandma flew the farthest

THERE'S nothing like an old-fashioned Thanksgiving, but the new one isn't all bad. Last year we flew to Denver to share Grandparents' Day with our two grandchildren at Cottonwood Elementary.

''I feel like I'm blazing a trail across a new frontier,'' I said to my husband when our eight-year-old granddaughter, Jess, greeted us, wearing her ruffled granny skirt and peasant blouse. Then she led us over to a giant map of our country, where she placed a pin with string attached to our home state of New York.

''Want to see our school's media room, Gramp?'' asked fifth-grader Todd. ''We have a TV cameraman in residence to teach us how to videotape.''

''Why don't I go with Jess to her classroom?'' I suggested.

''Gram, they're not classrooms, but family units,'' she said.

''To allow for more flexibility,'' Todd explained. ''We have five altogether: Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite. That's mine.''

''I'm in Sequoia,'' said Jess, bouncing on ahead to stake out her territory.

Even though it was reassuring to plow through the redwoods in the style of my pioneer predecessors, the only logging we did was counting miles in the air accumulated by visiting grandparents.

Jess's teacher, Miss Watson, announced to her students: ''You may now begin your interview with Grandmother.''

Jess pressed the button on her tape recorder and, pencil poised on Question 1 , inquired: ''Gram, what was your favorite program when you were young?''

I thought a moment. '' 'Vic and Sade' was fun.''

Jess wrinkled up her brow. ''Which channel is that?''

But before I could recount my radio days, the lunch bell rang. In the hallway a pint-size Dan Rather, dressed in a red alligator shirt and jeans, cornered me with a mike. ''How does Cottonwood compare with the school you attended?''

I recalled the basement lunchroom beside the boiler in my weathered brick school. I could still smell the orange peels and hard-boiled eggs. ''We've come a long way, fella,'' I said, as the aroma of turkey drifted down Cottonwood's corridor.

Lining its walls were family portraits the students had created with Magic Markers. One set looked frighteningly familiar. A gray-haired gentleman in a turtleneck stood beside a portly lady with a toothpaste smile, outlined in lipstick red.

''That's you and Gramp,'' Jess informed me. Below us she'd written in superior script: ''I am thankful for the trees and my grandparents because they are funny.''

When we finished feasting on turkey, Miss Watson handed us all a pair of scissors and asked us to sit around a work table. Not daring to argue with this no-nonsense teacher, I wedged myself into a Lilliputian chair, praying I would fit. While Jess traced a turkey's torso on brown paper, I carefully cut out a pair of drumsticks. Jess shrugged as if I were hopeless. ''Gram, turkey legs are fatter than that.'' Reluctantly, she pasted them on our bird. Meanwhile, Amy's grandmother, who'd claimed she knew absolutely nothing about art, fashioned her turkey with fuchsia feathers, causing Amy to brag: ''My grandmother's turkey is prettier than yours.''

''Grab me a swatch of calico,'' I said to Jess, my competitive spirit soaring. Quickly I taped it over our turkey's spindly legs. ''We'll pretend it's an apron.'' Then I shaped a stunning pair of arched orange eyebrows to complement its black, beady eyes. I could hardly wait to show Miss Watson our masterpiece, but couldn't get out of my chair.

''How unique,'' she said when I held it up. A mini TV cameraman zoomed in for a close-up.

I blushed, not used to notoriety.

''Now, hurry and finish your interviews with Grandmother,'' Miss Watson said.

Jess switched on her tape recorder. ''What would you like me to know about you, Gram, that I don't already know?''

I tried to think of something profound to pass on to future generations. ''Although I may not be expert, I certainly prefer cutting out turkeys to basting them. Thanks be for a new tradition.''

That night following the 10 o'clock news, our family unit gathered together to count our blessings. To our surprise, Miss Watson appeared on the screen, clutching our tattered turkey's torso. ''Cottonwood School is pleased to initiate a special award. . . .''

I cringed as the camera cut to a portly lady with a toothpaste smile. She was standing with her husband in front of a map watching their granddaughter place a pin on its easternmost border.

''Grandma!'' Jess shouted. ''You and Gramp won for flying farthest.''

I just hoped Amy's grandmother was watching.

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