My first three grandparents died when I was 11, 13, then 15 years old. All were “young”; my grandfathers under 70, my grandmother just 58 years old. The fourth I was fortunate to have in my life until my mid-30s.
Today is what many consider just another “Hallmark Holiday”, a day invented by the card companies to guilt people into buying overpriced pieces of cardstock filled with pre-printed sentiments they may or may not actually feel. Today is “Grandparent’s Day”.
When I was growing up this day did not exist, so I am inclined to be a bit cynical, believing it is a commercial invention. My family does not celebrate this particular occasion; rather we include the grandparents as part of Mother’s and Father’s Day. We are an efficient bunch.
Recently I noticed both of my parents somewhat melancholy when the subject of my grandparents comes up in conversation. A sense of loss no doubt resurfaces, along with awareness of being nearer end of life than beginning. Perhaps, like me, they are pondering how they will be remembered by their grandchildren.
I think it is disappointing for my mom to realize how few memories I have of my maternal grandparents – my Papa and Gram. She forgets how young I was when they lived in the same community, before they moved far away. Mostly they are known to me through what I have heard from my parents, and a few old photos.
What I do remember as personal memories are a handful of vivid vignettes, miniscule fragments of memory which at first seem irrelevant but are in hindsight moments of emotional connection for me. I remember watching Papa fishing; casting off a shore of a lake somewhere. A trip sitting in the backseat of their white station wagon going up the long mountainous hill between Beacon Corner and Bonnyville with Smarties for a treat. Eating delicious smelling homemade soup out of a bright turquoise plastic bowl in their kitchen. Looking inside the old pop cooler with glass bottles hanging in ice cold water when they lived and worked at the gas station. Petting their old black velvet-eared Labrador “Sparky” outside. Those are the only memories I know are authentically mine, not re-creations.
I have greater recollection of my paternal grandparents, as I spent a longer period of time with them. Going “to town” with Grandpa in his Volkswagen beetle to do the grocery shopping was an adventure. My earliest memory of Grandpa is him “taking off his legs”. How could that not have left an impression? He was a double amputee, who took his prosthetic legs, with socks and shoes attached, off at night. He would share the Rosebud chocolates in his bedroom cupboard, as I glanced at the images on the cover of his nightly reading – The National Enquirer – usually images of aliens and UFOs. Nights sleeping with Grandma in her bed, clinging to the edge so I would not roll into the middle, to possibly be squished (or so I thought). Grandma working alongside Grandpa “in the shop”, CFCW country radio blaring in the background. Her phone calls to ride my bike over to her house to “pick up perohy”. The all-encompassing hugs snug against her soft round body. Her genuine laughter, both in person and on the page. I always say Grandma was the originator of “LOL”; when I was at university she sent handwritten letters with “ha ha” scrawled after many sentences.
None of these memories are extraordinary on their own, but like the quilts my grandma made of fabric scraps, the bits and pieces come together to make something beautiful – something that feels a lot like love.