Today is Grandparents Day. Essentially this is a Hallmark holiday started in 1978 by Jimmy Carter to honor our grandparents and it always falls on the first Sunday after Labor Day. Back in ’78, my grandmother was surprised when she got an unexpected card and a gift from me – I remember her asking “Linda, what did you say that holiday was again?” and I told her it was merely an American Hallmark holiday but no reason we couldn’t celebrate it over there. She liked that reasoning. (Smile) Besides, you should not need a calendar event to celebrate your kinfolk anyway.
At Council Point Park this morning I saw the usual groups of older women walking the path. We’ve kibitzed often throughout the Summer, never for more than a few minutes at a time as each of us are anxious to complete our walk. They called out “good morning” and waved – they were too far away or I’d have wished them happy Grandparents Day. In our first meeting along the path, each of the women mentioned their grandchildren to me and while we learned little tidbits about one another, I innocently asked if they were in the education field and had the Summer off from work as I saw them there daily. They each fairly beamed at that question, and proudly announced that they had been retired for over two decades – of the four ladies I see most frequently, they range from 85 to 88 years old. They are just as spry as any of the walkers in the Park and have been walking for years. In the Winter they walk at Southland and Fairlane Malls and they also informed me that the City clears the snow from the Park path so they sometimes walk there as well. God willing, I will still be walking that same path when I am in my mid-80s and beyond, and please may I also have my health and faculties like these wonderful women are blessed to have.
The grandparents of the new millennium are not the same as the grandparents of friends or my own were for that matter. Grandparents today are not content to sit in rocking chairs and have their grandchildren come and pile onto their lap. Modern grandparents do not resemble the characters Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman played for years; I remember laughing at these characters when they had to start each other’s rocking chairs. (Here’s a sneak peek and have a laugh on me at this funny skit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvuyAGOlius).
Today’s grandparents are driving way into their 80s, are very tech savvy, many are well into second careers because retirement was “boring” and still others are into all the hobbies they never had time to enjoy while they were working and raising their families. I think this is admirable and I wish them well.
I do not have grandparents anymore. I never met my paternal grandparents who lived in Germany and died long before I was born. My maternal grandparents lived in Toronto. I saw them about once a month until we moved to the U.S. then it was infrequently – perhaps four or five times a year. Everyone I know has a similar moniker for their grandparents … I’d guess Grandma and Grandpa or Gramma and Gramps are probably the most common. I called my grandparents Nanny and Omer. This picture was taken a few months before he got water on his lungs and was admitted to a nursing home.
Omer, my grandfather, was a cantankerous old coot who hailed from Quebec. He had a vile temper and spewed venomous words more often than not – he said what he felt like without any forethought. I never addressed him by anything more than Omer, which was his first name, but that was the way he wanted it. He was not the type of grandfather that you’d beg to climb up into his lap and hear about your mom when she was a little girl. He hollered at anyone and everyone without provocation and made me so mad when I was a toddler, that I ducked under the table and bit him on the ankle one day. It was a story that was laughed about for years behind his back and after his death – the brazen little girl having shown some spunk and wordlessly told him what she thought of him. He, however, as you can imagine was not so amused. But honestly, how can one be endeared to a man who never conveyed his love to his own grandbaby? He succumbed to pneumonia in a nursing home in April of 1969, a few days before my 13th birthday. I remembered being miffed that his death sorely interrupted my birthday plans.
My grandmother was a different story. She was the type of person that people liked to go to when they had a personal problem. She’d listen to their hard-luck story or sad tale, offer counsel and a pat on the arm and a hug. Often she opened her purse and tendered money to the woebegone visitor if she thought it would help their situation. Nanny had the patience of a saint and was a much-loved presence on the street where she lived for decades. She passed away from a massive heart attack in the ambulance enroute to the hospital. She would not have wanted to linger because in recent years issues with her heart wore down her ticker and her vitality for life. Nanny was very much like a big wind-up alarm clock at the end of the day – needing help to keep ticking through another day … she was alive thanks to a cache of meds, but not really living. But, she was luckier than her eight siblings – all but one passed away with heart ailments many years before she was taken from us on a cold Winter morning in 1986, just barely past her 80th birthday.
Cherish your grandparents while they are still alive. Don’t send candy or flowers … give them a phone call, or if possible, put in a personal appearance instead. My mom and I got on the phone in different rooms to jointly call my grandmother every Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. sharp, and in her last few years we visited as often as we could. Let your grandparents talk about the “good old days” or when they were your age and spare rolling your eyes for another time. Don’t be discouraged if they walk or talk a little slow – take them by the arm and give them your rapt attention – always. Remember your roots and respect your elders … you will reach that plateau soon enough.