What grandparents do
“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” — Alex Haley
I’ve written about my mother’s wonderful mother. I didn’t mention my other grandmother, or either grandfather, but suffice it to say that my siblings and I hit the lottery jackpot when it came to grandparents. The great thing about the grandparent lottery is that it has way more winners than losers!
My grandmother was a fascinating person to me. Because her father and her husband were both much older than typical for women of her age, she had the distinction of being the daughter of a Civil War veteran, and the widow of a Spanish American War veteran. According to family lore, her great-great aunt was Eliza McCardle Johnson, America’s first lady following Mary Todd Lincoln. But Granny was interesting to us long before we were old enough to understand any of that.
When it came to having fun, Granny gave us more attention than any other adult I can remember. Unlike our busy parents, she had time to play Scrabble, Monopoly and other games with us – and taught us to play well and by the rules, never (as far as we could tell) letting us win just to appease us. She was a real ace at Scrabble because of her expert-level crossword puzzle skills. She knew more two-letter words than anyone I’ve ever known.
She was an extraordinary seamstress, but unlike my mother, an equally skilled seamstress who made all the clothes for my sister and me, Granny made fabulous outfits for our Barbie dolls. Each year at Christmas, my sister and me, along with our cousins Judy and Kay, could expect to get new Barbie wardrobes, with exquisitely trimmed evening gowns, square dancing dresses (with matching shirts for Ken), chic street-length dresses and fun, casual separates. The cheaply made store-bought Barbie clothes were obviously inferior despite their plastic accessories, and our couture Barbie wardrobes furnished many happy hours of dress-up play for our friends as well as for us. When we got too old for Barbies, my sister and I filled an entire suitcase with our Barbies’ wardrobes!
Granny’s house was enchanting. It was the same home she had been born in, before the turn of the century, and my Daddy was also born in that home. It had been remodeled and was well kept over the years, full of interesting historic objects and yet-untold stories. The kitchen had an ancient walk-in pantry and an antique cabinet with a built in-flour sifter. That kitchen was the source of the only cooking that, in my mind, could possibly rival my mother’s. My little brother learned to head straight for the kitchen as soon as we arrived at Granny’s, looking for the M&M cookies that he knew he would always find there (a special treat we only got at Granny’s house).
And speaking of untold stories, Granny never seemed to run out of them, though we had to coax her into telling them. She had met and married our grandfather during his years as an actor and director in a traveling theater troupe, and she spent the early years of their marriage in that same company, touring, singing and dancing. Once in awhile, if we kept after her long enough, she would pull out her old photographs of her show business days, and they were spellbinding. It’s likely that Granny’s old photographs were influential in my own love of photography.
Though she lived into her 90’s, Granny was sharp and lucid to the very end, and even left us a final gift of a letter written to each one of us, leaving them with my Aunt Norma to be mailed after Granny died. In her letter to me, she urged me to enjoy my children and play with them often. She left us a good example of how to do that, one I hope I was able to follow.
Undoubtedly, our grandparents have influenced us in ways too numerous to count or know. What memories do you have of your grandparents? Share some of your own stories of how you, too, hit the jackpot in the “grandparent lottery.” Remembering the love of our grandparents is a great way to defeat despair!
Happy birthday to my sister Carla, who shares so many of my happy memories of both grandmothers!
One year ago today