And not just as grandparents.
There’s an old photograph of my grandpa with his buddies when he was young. It would’ve been taken sometime in the early 30s. They’re standing on a sidewalk. At first you think they’re a harmless bunch, even if they are slouching and smoking cigarettes. But then you notice the empty alcohol bottles strewn around their feet. And you think, these guys were up to no good.
As grandparents, mine were pretty awesome. I mean, they had us kids over for every spring break. They lived in a small town, and they’d take us swimming in the lake, to the roller rink, and to the mall. If there was a carnival in town, they’d take us there, too. My grandma always had a drawer in her kitchen she kept stocked with Bubblicious bubblegum for us. And she always got us whatever sugar cereal my mom wouldn’t let us eat (which was only one—Cap’n Crunch Berries).
But I don’t feel like I knew them very well. I can’t remember them really talking to us much. My grandpa loved to talk to other people—my most common memory of him is waiting for him to stop talking to whatever random person we’d run into while out and about. He’d take forever. And then when he finally walked away he’d say, “That was your cousin.” We must’ve been related to everyone in the Skagit Valley.
For as long as I can remember, my grandpa was retired. I was thinking today about what he did for a living, and I’m not really sure. I know he drove a truck, but I don’t know who for or for how long. My grandma worked as a cook in a restaurant for many years. Which kind of cracks me up because I don’t remember her being that great of a cook—although she did make yummy rolls.
She died after my grandpa did, and my dad found her journal from before she got married. We all read it. I discovered a lot about her I never knew. I’d known she graduated from high school at 16 and became a teacher before she got married. She taught in a two-room schoolhouse. But I didn’t know she was in a singing group that travelled around a bit performing (all very local spots). I didn’t know she wanted to become an opera singer.
I can’t remember ever hearing her sing.
Her journal is full of her frustrations with her boss at the school where she taught, and her romance with some man I’d never heard of. He was a Merchant Marine and gone a lot. She’d wait anxiously for his letters. But after a bit her journal entries got more and more spread out. No mention of my grandpa, until suddenly there was an entry detailing her wedding to him—a ceremony performed by a Justice of Peace at a courthouse. My grandpa sat and read the newspaper as they waited to be wed.
I think the next entry was the birth of my father, their oldest child, and her language was terse. I think she wrote something like: “I bore a son today.” And that was it.
I know that my grandpa used to drink a lot, and would get violent when he did so. But that was when my dad was young. When I knew him, he was a sweet old man, with a sweet old dog, who loved to grow roses. But I wish my grandparents had told me things about their life. Once they took my husband and I for a drive around the area they lived in, and it seemed like every place we went, there was a spot they used to live. I suspect they didn’t talk much about those years because they were difficult ones. But there’s also this thing in my family—we rarely talk to each other. I can remember one particular holiday meal where the only words spoken were my grandma complaining that my mom hadn’t put any salt in the potatoes. That’s just the way things were.
Do you know much about your grandparents? Or is it just my closed-mouthed family that made me not know them very well? Maybe I did hear more about their lives and have just forgotten it. Either way, it’s a shame.