Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Grandma's come to visit

She's got a suitcase as big as a police cruiser and a heart as big as a ball field.

GRANDMA arrived the other day, with a suitcase the size of a Frigidaire. Took two grown men and a forklift to move it from the car to our guest quarters, which doubles as the little guy's bedroom. Come visit us and you're likely to have Spider-Man sheets and a stuffed raccoon as a bunkmate. Make your summer reservations now.

"So, how long is your mom staying?" I ask Posh, who just turns away and laughs.

I don't see beauty or hope in many places these days, not on the TV news or in the daily paper. So I'm forced to find it in the flutter of a hummingbird or the loopy arc of a 5-year-old's fly ball. I also, somehow, find it in the way the little guy wraps his arms around his grandmother's neck.

"OK, I guess she can stay," I say.

"How long?" asks the little girl.

"Till tomorrow," I say, and my wife just laughs some more.

Good thing I have a "thing" for the older ladies, which in my case means 70 and up. As I've noted in the past, women don't even begin to ripen till they hit 60, and most peak between 70 and 80. In that sense, Grandma is pretty ripe.

As with Santa Claus, I have no idea how old my mother-in-law actually is. Centuries, at least. But by all estimates, she will outlive me and eventually be driving my car.

"Hi, Grandma!" the kids say excitedly, welcoming her to California.

"I'm so glad you're here," one kid says.

"How was your flight, Grandma?" asks another.

Yeah, Grandma, which broom did you fly in on? Honestly, I love my mother-in-law. She is a good woman and a decent sport about the fact her daughter married well beneath herself.

To my wife's family, I have always been like some secondary lunatic in a Chevy Chase movie. For a while, my mother-in-law took solace in the fact that the relationship would obviously never last. Now, four kids later, my wife's family is beginning to acknowledge that it may be serious. Considering all that, Grandma is a very understanding person.

In her suitcase -- did I mention it was the size of a police cruiser? -- she's brought little gifts for the children and, for us, a photo album that pretty much chronicles our marriage -- first babies, first baptisms, first apartments.

It surprises me how skinny and underfed Posh and I looked back then. In one photograph, we look like a hot young couple. I think we were 14.

"See, in 1982 we were pretty hot," I tell the patient and lovely older daughter.

"Dad, those clothes are actually coming back," she says.

"White pants? Ascots?"

"Yeah, the hipsters are wearing that now."