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My grandparents were so cool. As a child, I knew they were the parents of my parents, but I couldn’t connect those dots. They were older people who made me feel special, and introduced me to different perspectives.

This poem resonates with me, so I wanted to share it with you.

My Grandparents’ Generation

They are taking so many things with them:
their sewing machines and fine china,

their ability to fold a newspaper
with one hand and swat a fly.

They are taking their rotary telephones,
and fat televisions, and knitting needles,

their cast iron frying pans, and Tupperware.
They are packing away the picnics

and perambulators, the wagons
and church socials. They are wrapped in

lipstick and big band music, dressed
in recipes. Buried with them: bathtubs

with feet, front porches, dogs without leashes.
These are the people who raised me

and now I am left behind in
a world without paper letters,

a place where the phone
has grown as eager as a weed.

I am going to miss their attics,
their ordinary coffee, their chicken

fried in lard. I would give anything
to be ten again, up late with them

in that cottage by the river, buying
Marvin Gardens and passing go,

collecting two hundred dollars.

It’s not uncommon for a grandchild to assist in healing a grandparent’s painful past. It could be re-establishing an old relationship, locating missing documents, or even embarking on a diplomatic mission on behalf of a deceased grandparent.

For example, take Clifton Truman Daniel, President Harry S. Truman’s grandson. He visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to apologize for his grandfather’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, but to be an ambassador, of sorts, of reconciliation and healing.

Photo credit: Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes

Understandably, anger remains in Japan, and some Americans believe that Truman may have had other options. However, there are American service members who believe lives were spared as a result of the bombing, and point out that twelve Americans were killed in the bombing as well.

During Daniel’s visit, he was presented with a small plastic bag containing tree seeds which had fallen from trees which had surviving the bombing, to be planted around the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. A three-term former mayor of Hiroshima subsequently visited the Truman Library.

Daniel plans on writing a book detailing the bombings, his grandfather’s rationale for them, and how survivors moved forward.

If discord exists in your family due to a historical event in which a senior family member – living or deceased – played a part, you have an opportunity to research the backstory leading up to the event, which may have impacted ultimate decisions. Presenting it from an objective point of view has the potential of healing generations, and allowing the future to move forward.

It seems that retailers, in a rush to sell, sell, sell for Christmas, bury Thanksgiving Day under Christmas musak starting early November,  and layering with the top soil of Black Friday.

Although President George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789 citing November 26th as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks,” it was President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863 – in the midst of the Civil War.  It is, therefore, appropriate that Spielberg’s film, “Lincoln,” be released this week.  (You can view President Lincoln’s actual proclamation on-line courtesy of The National Archives:  http://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2009/nr09-25.html)

My childhood Thanksgivings were spent at my grandparents’ place, where I enjoyed two traditions.  First, was watching my grandmother smack my dad’s hand when he tried to sneak a couple of olives before dinner was served.  Second, was watching my grandfather lob dinner rolls across the table, instead of passing the basket around, just to annoy my grandmother.

And, of course, there arrived that grand day when I was “promoted” from the child’s table.

With the sunrise, an unspoken, respectful tone permeated their home, historically created with love, and memories.  Thanksgiving was imbued with a deep, rich, ambiance.

It was a similar tone that Lincoln wanted to provide; a respite from the bitterness and anger amongst citizens, and families, during a tumultuous time in this country’s history.  This day has been set aside to reflect on our gifts; whether you spend the day with friends, families, or solitarily; dine on turkey, ham, or vegan.

The world is a living, breathing, cornucopia of accessibly interesting places, people, and stories.

For that, I am truly grateful.

Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do.  Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”

Alex Haley

Grandparent stardust was a staple for my brothers and I, and it is missed very, very much. We were fortunate to know both paternal and maternal grandparents throughout our childhood, and adult years.

Grandparents Day is this weekend, and although they have all passed, I will take this opportunity to acknowledge my grandparents’ influence – love, support, example – and express my gratitude for having had them in my life.

Grammie always dressed well.  She even wore a skirt and cashmere sweater (sleeves carefully pushed up to her elbow) when working in her garden.  Her garden, a shoo-in for Sunset Magazine, included trellises, hanging planters, archways, and gates, built by my grandfather.  She taught me how to play Crazy 8’s, King in the Corner, I Spy, and Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button.  She was an avid reader of history, an amazing cook, and strong walker.  Although she endured several surgeries throughout her life, I never heard her complain.  When she was 93, she looked up from her hospital bed, and told the nurse, “I feel old.”  She died two hours later, peacefully, in her sleep.

Grandma Gerry was a tough cookie.  When she was 16 years old, a Sheriff pulled her out of class one day (a humiliation), telling her she had to go home right away, because her mother had left, and since her father was out working at logging camps, someone had to watch her younger sisters.  She spent the next couple of years cooking, and cleaning house, in addition to taking care of her sisters, but also maintained a high grade point average in school.  She raised three boys, while her husband worked two or three shifts to support the family.  I rarely saw her sit down, as she was always cleaning, barking orders, or reprimands.  But, I never doubted her love, and she was always there when I needed her.

Grampie was a sailor, and carpenter, who liked to call me “Granny.”  He could be close-minded, but always took my side in arguments.  He taught himself how to build a house by talking to carpenters, did pull-ups by his fingertips on door frames, flexed his chest muscles so his ship tattoo rocked its waves, loved his pipe, and the San Francisco Giants.  While his wife enjoyed reading about the past, he was always interested in anything newly invented, global changes, and innovative ideas.  As a man who had always worked with his hands, legal blindness was very difficult for him.  He’d walk down to the assisted care facility’s dining room, twist off his walking cane’s handle, and pour out Old Grandad whiskey from the hidden vial into his morning coffee.  Once a sailor …

Grandpa Bo spent so much time cutting class in school, the teacher didn’t know his name.  He decided there was no point in continuing, and spent the rest of his life working for the lumber mill.  He knew how to have a good time.  There was always a smile on his face when we visited, and a sad wave good-bye when we left.  He could build anything from anything.  He loved getting my grandmother riled up.  Whenever Lawrence Welk or wrestling was on TV, grandkids took a back seat.  When I announced, at age 19, that I would be backpacking across Europe with a 28 year old man, my grandmother immediately counter-announced that I wasn’t going anywhere, with any man.  My grandfather, however, winked, and said, “Send me a postcard.”  He said he would rather die, than quit smoking.  Wish granted. Dammit.

What are your best memories of your grandparents?

My grandparents had been married 70 years when it came time for them to move into an assisted living facility.  Forced to leave their home and losing their independence was obviously difficult for them.

My mother – their daughter – had passed away a couple of decades previous, so it was up to my brothers and I to overlook the moving process. My grandparents sat next to each other watching, with sad, sad eyes as I emptied cupboards and drawers, and would respond quietly, sometimes with a catch in their voices, whenever they were asked if they wished a particular item to be donated, sold at a yard sale, or gifted. 

My grandfather had served in the Navy the first couple of years in their marriage, so moving was not new for them.  However, they had accumulated a lot of memories in the subsequent decades, and many of them were associated with treasured items – drawings and paintings created by my grandmother before arthritis kicked in, her grandmother’s lace bed coverlet and her mother’s plates, a high school textbook, dance cards, my grandfather’s tools from his basement workshop, his sailor’s uniform last worn in 1930, a sword he obtained in Panama, souvenirs from road trips after their children had grown, silhouettes of the grandchildren when they were in grade school, and so forth.

My brothers claim their part was the most difficult – loading up the few heavy pieces of furniture and boxed items that would fit in their small, new apartment.  I disagree.  I drove them away from their home.  As we pulled away from the curb, my grandfather said, “Good-bye, house.  Good-bye, old house” and started singing, “The Last Roundup,” while my grandmother rifled through her purse looking for her heart medication.

When you’re writing your life story, or helping someone else to write his or hers, ask what treasures are sprinkled throughout the home that have a history; a memory.  It will not only serve as a memory trigger, but the story can accompany the item to its new home.

What items in your home are special to you, and what’s the story behind them?

You Are A Classic

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