To learn more about Mary’s grandfather, click the image below.
It was only three years ago, shortly before my 27th birthday, that I lost my my paternal grandfather at the ripe, old age of 94. My maternal grandfather passed away a year later at age 88, peacefully and at home, surrounded by his entire family. My paternal grandmother and maternal grandmommy—95 and 90 years old, respectively—are still kicking.
I know how lucky I am. Aside from the gift of longevity genes (something I take comfort in regularly), I got to live more than a quarter of a century with all four of my grandparents. They were able to attend Grandfriends’ Day at my preschool, all of my high school musical productions, and even my wedding. At every stage of my young life, my grandparents showered me with love, support, and invaluable wisdom. As long as I live, I will never forget the lessons they taught me.
You have to leave home to find yourself. My first extended-stays away from home happened at my grandparents’ homes in small-town Texas. I spent two weeks every summer in Albany and several spring break weeks in Cleburne. Being with them, I learned so much. I learned that my grandmother did not make a full egg, bacon, and doughnut breakfast on weekdays like she did on Saturday mornings. I learned how to fish in my aunt and uncle’s pond. I learned how to operate a cash register while working in my grandmommy’s antiques store. I learned about musical theatre while rehearsing to be a prairie child in the Fandangle. Most important, I made friends with people, young and old, that I never would have met otherwise. These experiences whetted my appetite for independent adventure and led me to attend both summer camp and an out-of-state college—places where I really came into my own.
Sing out, Louise. My maternal granddaddy was a born performer, and the entire world was his stage. Given any opportunity, my granddaddy would stand up from his chair, announce his chosen tune, and start singing. You couldn’t help but smile and sing along. Because I was a musical theatre major in college, people assume that I am the same way. They are wrong! I always clam up when I’m asked to sing in public. Without a blinding spotlight and fictional character to hide behind, I’m no performer at all. But that is something I have made a concerted effort to change since my granddaddy’s passing. Because his light shined so bright, we’ve all been left in a sort of darkness. And if it makes my family smile (or even happy cry) for just a minute to hear me sing one of granddaddy’s favorite songs, it’s worth the discomfort.
True love is not just a fairy tale. My grandparents were married a combined 136 years!!! Beyond sheer commitment, my grandparents had romance. In a scene right out of The Notebook, my maternal granddaddy serenaded my grandmommy with the song “I’ll Be Seeing You” during their courtship. My paternal granddaddy similarly adored my grandmother, refusing to identify her in group photos from the 1940s with any specificity other than, “She’s the prettiest one.” I know—because I’ve seen it firsthand—that true love exists.
Stand up for yourself. Long before feminism was in vogue, my paternal grandmother told my granddaddy that she wasn’t ready to settle down. Even though he already had announced to his mother that she was the girl he wanted to marry, he waited patiently. You go, grandmother! My maternal grandmommy is no shrinking violet either. Just this year, she placed a political ad in her local newspaper advocating for the end of their dry county. I’m so grateful to have these strong women as examples.
Accept the people you love for exactly who they are. Believe it or not, my grandparents and I have not always agreed on everything. For example, my paternal grandparents are quite religious, and my immediate family is not. Although they may have worried about us privately, they never once made me feel inadequate for leading a secular life. The only times religion ever came up were (1) on Christmas (appropriate) and (2) when they were worried about one of us and thought that religion might help (a purely generous gesture). My maternal grandfather and I also disagreed from time to time. For one thing, he loved Ann Coulter. But you know who else he loved? Me. So I ignored it. Life is too short to focus on differences between yourself and the people you love.
Everyone is somebody’s baby. Nothing in life (except maybe the book Love You Forever) conveys the circle of life quite so vividly as seeing your parents take care of and, eventually, let go of their parents. It makes you cherish your own parents and children even more. I know that I will care for my parents as lovingly and diligently as I have seen them care for theirs, and I hope that my children will do the same for me one day—learning from me what I learned from my parents. And on and on it will go.
What have you learned from your grandparents?