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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : I wish I’d known my grandparents as people. » I wish I’d known my grandparents as people.

I wish I’d known my grandparents as people.

Susan M - September 19, 2007

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.


  1. Susan, I feel the same way about my grandparents on my dad’s side. I just don’t know anything about what they loved, who they were. And they’re both gone now.

    One of the best things I’ve ever done was sit down with my maternal grandma shortly before she died, and got her to talk. It was late at night and we were alone in her room, and I just asked her questions- it didn’t take much, and she was rolling down memrories. I wrote as fast as I could in my journal as she talked and talked. The light was low, so some of my transcribing is barely legible, but I have pages of details that would otherwise been lost forever. It’s one of my greatest treasures in this life.

    Comment by tracy m — September 19, 2007 @ 9:12 am

  2. Before she died I bought my grandma a tape recorder and some blank tapes but she never recorded anything for me, and I never had time to interview her. I wish I had.

    Comment by Susan M — September 19, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  3. It may be a common thing to not talk to relatives and not talk about them.

    My grandfather died in the early 1960′s, when I was still in grade school.

    One time when I was 18, and my father was being verbally abusive towards me, he made one disparaging remark about his father. He had never said anything about him before, and never mentioned him since.

    I can’t remember him ever saying anything about his mother either. She lived for about 40 years after grandfather died. I can’t remember my father ever talking to her on the phone.

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 19, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

  4. I wish I knew more about my grandparents too. They lived on the other side of the country and while we visited them often, it’s not the same. I’m not sure it would have made much different if we’d been nearby, either. My grandfather died just as I finished high school and Grandma followed him four years later. I was too busy trying to figure out my life to wonder about theirs. Now I have all these questions I wish I’d thought to ask them before.

    I’m going to try to get those kinds of things written down for my kids — both my parents’ history and my own.

    My f-i-l is 70 and is just now starting to have some real health problems. I wish we’d been able to start our family sooner so that our kids would have had more time with him.

    Bah. Here’s one reason not to wait so dang long to start your family.

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — September 19, 2007 @ 7:00 pm

  5. Susan:

    My last grandparent just recently died. He outlived all his friends, siblings, his wife and all his children. I posted the talk I gave at his funeral here. He was also a very untalkative sort. When he turned 90 we had a birthday party where we invited all his living relatives. We had to track them down and he was not much help. He had not spoken to most of them in many years, and we had never met most of them. They were his first cousins, but they were strangers. Wonderful people. They came to his funeral. It made me wish I had known them before.

    Comment by MCQ — September 26, 2007 @ 7:03 am

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