Monday, September 17, 2007


I called my maternal grandmother yesterday to thank her for the very thoughtful birthday card she sent me.

It may be the first time I've called her in the year since I moved to Florida. When she answered I was surprised that she sounds old now.

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my mom's parents. My mom was an executive and traveled around the country a lot. Most of these trips meant that I stayed with my Grandma and Grandpa during her absence. When I was very young, I would spend the morning with a babysitter and then join my grandparents in the afternoon at the two-room school where Grandma taught 1st through 4th grade and Grandpa taught 5th through 8th. As I got older I stayed at the school with them all day, hanging out in the loft and reading or drawing.

At home with them, Grandma taught me to bake, crochet and sew. On trips to Walla Walla, Grandpa taught me to count and about the constellations. I recall many trips before the seatbelt laws came into effect where I laid in the back window of their Volkswagon Rabbit and gazed at the stars during the four-hour trip. We would take this same trip about once a month and then more frequently as my great-grandparents health failed. Driving through the Columbia Gorge holds countless memories for me and it is still a pleasant experience.

I learned to read early, thanks to my mom reading to me every night before bed and my grandparents doing the same when I stayed with them. My favorite book to have Grandpa read to me was "Nose Is Not Toes." Even now one of the first things he says to me is "Marisa, nose is not toes!" and giggles.

I learned to ride a bike thanks to my grandparents. They purchased a black and yellow boy's bike with training wheels at a garage sale and we began the process. I was horrified at first to have to ride a BOYS bike, but I got over it quickly. In later years I would have a bike at their house and the three of us would ride together. I was so proud that my Grandparents rode bikes at their age (I think they were probably in their late fifties or early sixties at the time).

I vividly recall the pattern of the linoleum on their kitchen floor. I remember the summer that they tore out the tree that had the three swings hanging from it's biggest bough and replaced it with a koi pond. The pond was finished just in time for my birthday party, and I was invited to swim in the pond with my friends before the fish were put in. I remember that my grandfather was an honorary member of the engineers club at Shady Dell, and they took us to ride the miniature trains often.

I was in still in elementary school when I grew taller than my grandparents. When I was in high school they moved from the house I had spent so much time in to one near some of my Grandma's siblings. Now our trips to Walla Walla were to see my grandparents, instead of with them.

About 5 years ago my Grandma was diagnosed with cancer in her abdomen. Right about the same time one of my very close friends who was only 25 was also diagnosed with abdominal cancer, but she was pregnant. My friend underwent mild chemotherapy and initially seemed to be responding well to the treatment. Because of this, I strongly encouraged Grandma to also have chemo. Sadly I lost my friend after 3 months of her battle, but Grandma went into remission. In the four years since she has 3 relapses and 3 more rounds of chemo.

I am suddenly faced with my grandparents' mortality. I am not ready. They contributed so much to my childhood memories and education, and I want them to meet my children and have my children have the opportunity to learn from them.

When they go I will not be ready, even if they are. I owe them an immeasurable amount of gratitude and can only hope that I have begun to express that to them in the time I have left.


Bananas said...

I am right there with you. My last living grandparent, my grandma, is in a nursing home in MN. I rarely get to see her. Just last week I had this pang of regret wishing that I could call her, talk to her, share experiences with her. She has lost her grip on reality, so these things are impossible. Mortality is an awfully hard thing to come to terms with - ours, and that of those we love.

Atypical California Girl said...

Wow. That was so moving.
It makes me think of fishing with my maternal granfather and hanging out at the garage with my dad's father.
My paternal grandmother died last year and it was quite hard on me.
My mom's mother lives nearby with my aunt and her family. I see her at least a couple times a month.
She is pretty much unable to walk, but she is still sharp and loves to tell stories about when her kids and her kids' kids were little.
I was always closer to my grandfathers, but I do have fond memories of shopping with Grandma Naomi (dad's side) and baking with Grandma Mary (mom's side).
Thanks for writing this Reese. Usually this kind of thing makes me sad. But today it made me happy that I have all those great memories.

ReesePie said...

I'm glad. It felt good to put it out there.

Angela said...

What a beautifully written post. You brought back so many memories (not the least of which the four years I spent in SE Washington). I wonder if you and I were there at the same time . . . :) Such lovely coincidences. I was so sorry to hear about your friend. I lost my grandmother to pancreatic cancer and miss her still. You are wise to realize we should cherish and thank those we love while we have them. Excellent lesson and a most excellent post.

Ninja Of The Mundane said...

You're lucky. All my grandparents were dead before I was born ... a loss caused by the selfish decision of my parents to have children in their forties.

Let this be a lesson to all prospective parents: Think very carefully at what your choices may deprive your children of. Kids should get to have grandparents, and they shouldn't have to live with any reality that says they can't.

Do the right thing.

Tammie Jean said...

What a great collection of memories! I love the "nose is toes" thing - how cute!

All of my grandparents have passed on. My mother's parents were older and died when I was a small child. My father's parents were both living when I gave birth to my daughter, and she still has memories of my grandfather.

The one thing I realized as my grandfather got older, was that the greatest gift I could give him was time. I spent as much time with him as I could, making him dinner, listening to his stories, hanging out and watching Jeopardy.

Tammie Jean said...

By the way, Ninja, perhaps I was reading it wrong, but I thought your comment sounded very judgemental of older parents, or even anyone who would deprive their children of grandparents.

My mother was one of the youngest of 7 children, so by the time she had children of her own (at the age of 21 - she didn't wait!) her parents were getting on in years. Plus, since they were alcoholics they probably didn't live as long as they should have. Should she not have had children, knowing that her parents wouldn't be around to see them grow?

I'm sure your comment could also be applied to my decision to follow through with my pregnancy, knowing I would be an "only parent". Most people, myself included, feel that fathers are important as well. But if you ask my daughter, she'll tell you she has the best mom, and the best family, and that she has happy life. If the child is deprived of anything at all, love isn't on that list.

I think the decision to have children is a highly personal one, and many factors go into whether or not children are born to good parents, and into loving families.

The right thing to do can be different for everyone.

Ninja Of The Mundane said...

You may be right, Tammie Jean.

Tell you what ... when your child is 18, ask her if she felt deprived by not having grandparents. Then let me know what she has to say.

I'm speaking only of my parents in this specific example ... but, in a general way, am saying that everybody who decides to be a parent should think as much of what the child would want out of the experience as the parents would want. A child is a person with his or her wants or needs, not an accessory to be created to fit a parent's whims.

ReesePie said...

Say what you want, Jim, I'm planning to have kids to teach them to clean up after all my animals.

Ninja Of The Mundane said...

They'll thank you for that someday.

Probably in your sleep ... if you're lucky, you won't feel a thing.