Spending the summer at 'Camp Grandma'

Sitting on the floor of her living room, Dolores Burnett is making memories with her two granddaughters. Surrounded by her figurines and baby dolls, Burnett is going through her costume jewelry with her girls. She plans to give them each a few pieces as keepsakes. She pulls out a string of black and white pearls, some gold-plated necklaces and silver bangles.

Her granddaughters, cousins Danielle Briggs, 10, and Ariea Briggs, 7, are claiming the various pieces. Ariea wants the long, gold-plated necklace. ''I like the way it shines,'' she says as she prances in front of the mirror.

Danielle and Ariea are a part of a tradition in the South: city children, often from the North, spending their summers with rural grandparents eager to spoil them.

These days, ''Camp Grandma'' isn't always in the country, and milking cows and catching fireflies aren't necessarily part of the experience. But the visits remain a chance to nurture the special relationship between kids and their grandparents.

It's been several years since Burnett, 57, saw the last of her four sons move out. So this summer, the timing was perfect for an extended visit with two of her three grandchildren.

''It's all that I thought it would be,'' says Burnett, who took three weeks off from her job as the outreach coordinator for Save Our Sisters, a breast cancer education and screening program. ''I was yearning for them. I wanted to hear them call me 'Grandma.'''

It's not a sprawling farmhouse in the country. But her quiet cul-de-sac home, decorated with African cloths, masks and sculptures, has been a place for her and her granddaughters to catch up. Here, Burnett feeds them breakfasts of eggs, bacon, toast and juice. At home in New York City, the girls normally eat cold cereal. Here, they are the focus of Burnett's life. At home, they compete for their parents' attention.

''My mother keeps three foster children and they can be noisy,'' Danielle says. ''Here it's quiet and peaceful.''

In journals their grandmother gave them, the girls record the highlights of their North Carolina vacation: visits to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and Chuck E. Cheese's, and fireworks at the State Fairgrounds.

Both Ariea and Danielle get a kick out of their grandma's dog, Miles, a black poodle with blue nail polish that matches his bows.

The girls also ventured south of Raleigh to spend a few days with their country cousins.

''We rode the go-cart,'' Danielle says. ''We jumped on the trampoline. We fished in the pond. We didn't catch any fish, but it was fun.'' Fishing is not something that Danielle has done in Queens.

And, of course, like any doting grandparent, Burnett takes her granddaughters shopping.

For Burnett, the visit is a special chance to get to know her granddaughters firsthand - instead of over the telephone. She's learning to savor them as individuals.

''Danielle likes to read. She's very sensitive and mature,'' Burnett says. ''Ariea is energetic.''

Burnett is learning about everything from Danielle's dislike of potato salad to Ariea's favorite colors, blue and gray.

''Now that I'm older, I have more tolerance. I understand different personalities better,'' she says.

Of course, Burnett is treasuring special moments of her own, like getting hugged by the girls before bedtime each night.

It may not be until they are grandparents themselves that Ariea and Danielle fully appreciate these morsels of memories of their grandmother chatting with them, telling them stories about their fathers.

Burnett has her own childhood memories to treasure. As a girl, she spent most of her summers at her grandmother's house on the Virginia border. She and her siblings were sent down the day after school ended and returned the weekend before school started.

''It was real rural living,'' Burnett says.

She describes her grandmother as stern and strict. In fact, Burnett didn't think her grandmother even loved her. Then one day, Burnett fell down some stairs and bumped her head on a rock.

''She had this expression she would say when something happened: 'Lord, God, Master,''' Burnett says. ''She picked me up and put me in her bed. She rubbed my head with some oil and took out some dry biscuits, sprinkled water on them, warmed them in the oven and gave them to me.''

That's when she knew her grandmother loved her.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com.)


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