A student asked me today, “What can I do, when both sets of grandparents go crazy with gift-giving in December? It’s as if it is a competition!”
The question set me to thinking about my grandmothers. Before I go any further, I want to be clear: I loved both my grandmothers and I know that they both loved me.
Due to circumstances, I didn’t get to see much of one grandmother. She traveled a lot, and sent me beautiful dolls from every place she visited. Those dolls enriched my life: I learned about other cultures, about climate and geography. I kept the dolls in a cabinet, and enjoyed looking at them and dreaming about all the places they represented.
I have only a few vivid memories of that grandmother. She hated waste (we’re alike that way) and she thought I should take French in high school (I took Spanish.) The conversations I remember best are from a train ride we took from Chicago to San Francisco. I remember that she taught me how to play canasta. She always kept ginger ale for children. Other than that, I don’t remember a great deal about her, which is really quite sad.
My other grandmother took me along on errands. I learned a lot of my values from her, just watching the way she treated people. I saw her give money to poor people when they asked for help. When there was an obituary in the paper about someone she vaguely knew, she’d say, “Get dressed up, we’re going to the funeral home!” She taught me the power of simply showing up.
She loved to drive a little (maybe a lot) too fast, but she taught me to drive after my father had given up in despair. I still hear her voice when I have to wait a long time for a left turn: “Just wait, Punkin, the right opening will come. There’s no rush. You’re doing fine.”
She always told me what I was doing right; her silences told me what I was doing wrong. When I became an adolescent, she had a lot to be silent about, but she persisted in telling me when she was proud of me. The only painful memory I have of her was my own failure: when she was dying she tried to talk to me about death, but to my eternal regret, I changed the subject.
So this is what I told my student: If the grandparents want to compete, you can’t stop them. But remind them that the way to “win” the competition is with relationship: get to know your grandchildren. Let them get to know you. Share your values by example: don’t tell, show. Expensive gifts are not memories. Tell stories. Take them along.
My grandmothers died two months apart, in the spring and summer of 1974. One I remember faintly with fondness and gratitude; the other is key to the person I grew up to be, and I mourn her still.
The photos above are the only ones I have of either grandmother. Neither conveys their true beauty.
5 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Grandmothers”
Grandparents are magical. They inhabit a world that is utterly unique. Both of my grandmothers lived with my family for periods and I treasure the memories. It is only as an adult that I realized how much they had taught me with small acts. What a blessing they are to me.
One of my great regrets is that I never knew my grandmothers; one died before I was born and the other when I was 2. Unfortunately, I have no memories of either of my grandfathers. Therefore I’m grateful that my son got to know his nana and that my grandson had 9 years with his pop-pop. Their memories are also mine and I love looking at pictures of them together. When my son and my grandson say Kaddish with me for my husband, it unites us in our dedication to our faith.
thank you for sharing beautiful memories and insights