Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ode to Grandparents

Warren Charles Plauche',MD

I never had viable grandparents, although all four were living until I was grown. My father's parents lived in Brooklyn, New York, and I was on Long Island, but there was considerable bad feeling between him and them so we saw them only on State Occasions every several years. They had been separated since before I was born and I never heard them exchange a single word, although they sat on opposite sides of my aunt's Thanksgiving table. My grandmother supposedly disapproved of my parents' union, so they eloped two months before their planned wedding day, but always celebrated the official one. I have heard that she tried to break up their marriage even after my brother was born, but since I was not there and he, being six months old at the time, is an unreliable source, I don't know if it's true. Everyone who would know is now dead.

My cousin once told me that our grandmother taught her to knit and crochet and to this day, she said, she can do those things better than most people. I was fond of my grandmother but kept it to myself because I knew better than to express an opinion about anything which differed from my father's. My grandfather taught my brother to play chess, but since I was younger and female, he paid me little attention. He did write poems for me on all my childhood birthdays though, Edgar Guest-like rhymes on yellow cap, tucked into a card.

My mother's parents lived in California when I was born but moved to Ohio several years later. We visited them once, when I was seven, but I never saw them again until I went to college in Florida, where they were then living. My parents were more concerned with preserving my chastity than improving my mind, so I was shipped off to the least of the universities that accepted me because my mother's parents, two brothers and sister all lived nearby. I guess they assumed that this extended family would supervise my social life as stringently as they had to keep me "marriageable." To my relatives' credit, they didn't.

I adored my grandparents although I never felt as much a part of their family as my many Florida cousins who had known them all their lives. Every Tuesday, I took two buses from my dorm to my grandparents' house and we walked to Tyler's, their favorite neighborhood restaurant, for the Early Bird Special at 5:00. My grandfather would throw open the door and yell, "This is my granddaughter! Isn't she beautiful?" And every time, my grandmother rebuked him, "Charles, lower your voice." He would pull out my chair, grinning as he announced loudly, "I can't hear you, Daisy. I turned off my hearing aid." On their 50th wedding anniversary, he gave her a solid gold bracelet with large disks for each of their four children, engraved on the back with the names of the grandchildren. The largest disk said, "For 50 years meritorious service." He presented it to her at a large family party, and she read the inscription and threw it at him.

It has not escaped my notice that I have no grandchildren, although my three children are now adults with many qualities that would surely enrich another generation. But I only today put together this lack with the fact that I also lacked most of the experience of having grandparents, and I can't figure out what this means. No doubt some of you will dispute that it means anything at all, but I cannot believe it is random. Like any parent, I want my children to be happy in whatever way suits them. And while I would love to be a grandmother, it is absolutely, categorically, massively not about me. But it seems strange that I have thus far missed out on the grandparent issue from both ends if there is not a connection.

My brother knew all our grandparents better than I did because he was the only child in both families until he was six, when I was born, and he has eight grandchildren on both sides of the Atlantic. Did knowing his grandparents make it possible for him to be one someday? Was the die really cast all those years ago, when I was still a child myself? If I had known my grandparents better, would I now be swimming in grandchildren too?

23 comments:

Cloudia said...

Regrets? You're human!

A great post-




Aloha from Honolulu

Comfort Spiral

><}}(°>

secret agent woman said...

I had grandparents I loved deeply and who were involved in my life, even though we didn't live close to them when I was very young. We moved in with them for a while after my parents's divorce and I visited as much as I could when I was older. So I treasured them. I think about that often because my kids do not have grandparents who are very involved in their lives. It saddens me.

Charlene said...

I knew my mom's mom. She lived with us as I grew up. Her husband died in 1948, so I never knew him. I had met my father's parents and all I recall about them is his mom was silent, seldom speaking. His father was a talker and held me on his lap while he talked, spitting tobacco juice in a spittoon when necessary.

My maternal grandmother was a good friend to me and an advocate when my Mom was laying the guilt on a little thick.

I have no children and thereby no grandchildren. Now how does that all shake out in probability? SMILE

mischief said...

And I have no children. So why do I have parents? xx

lgsquirrel said...

Do you really want to be "swimming" in grandchildren? Logical Grey Squirrel (LGS) sees no connection between the current lack of grandchildren with your past experience with your grandparents. If you want grandchildren, you probably have to play the role, i.e. badger your children about it! But then maybe that's what drives parents and their kids apart. :)

Warty Mammal said...

Discontinuity. Disconnection. I have similar feelings, as though I'm floating on my own little island. If there are grandchildren, they're likely to occur when I'm quite old. It makes one feel wistful, somehow.

nick said...

My grandparent experience is pretty minimal too. Jenny and I don't have children, and neither do her brother and sister. I loved my maternal granny but wasn't close to my maternal grandpa. My paternal grandpa died before I was born and my paternal granny died when I was very young.

I don't think it's any great loss though. As long as you have some significant others to love and inspire you when you're growing up, I don't think it matters whether they're relatives, friends or whatever.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Dearest Hearts,

It is only an irony... a present one at that. It may change. If you looked at the grandparent/grandchild coincidence, then you must also look at the parent/child relations as well; that being your parents and your children and I'm willing to bet you a coke that there is no coincidence that would make you wonder about those relations *at all*.

Irony is glaringly blatant just because it is ironic, and there is surely nothing more to it than that.

*HUGS*

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Cloudia,

Regrets? No, just musing on the way of things.

Agent,

You were very lucky. Of course my wistfulness presupposes that such people are kind, intelligent and loving. Sadly, there are horrible grandparents as well as horrible parents. I'm sorry your boys don't have the beautiful connection you enjoyed with your grandparents.

Charlene,

I do remember that both my grandfathers smoked cigars, but thankfully, no chewing tobacco.

I'll have to reconsider the probabilities.

Lisa,

But you still might. As to why we have parents, I've wondered about that for years.

Calvin,

No badgering. It's not my call. Of course you're logical - you're a scientist while I have the great luxury of devising completely random theories.

Warts,

I am already old, I suppose, and that makes me wistful.

Nick,

I think that our present world is notable for people making their own families, choosing their "relatives," since few of us actually live near our blood relatives or even know them.

Scarlett,

I'm not eating my heart out or anything, just pondering if there is a meaning hidden in circumstances. I tend to dissect things (figuratively) to find their deeper truths because I crave logic, although my methods are rarely scientific. And you can keep all the Cokes in the world -- I hate the stuff.

mrwriteon said...

You pose some really interesting questions,Susan. I think your destiny was what it was meant to be, no doubt. I had a very close tie with my maternal grandparents -- which was good, since I didn't like my parents all that much. When I was born my mother came down with scarlet fever and was quaranteed, consequently my bonding in those vital early days was with my grandmother, not my Mom. When she died (she was hit by a car crossing the street)when I was 14 I was devastated and have always mourned her death much more than my mother's.

Jo said...

I lost all my grandparents when I was young, and actually had only met my mother's parents (Granny and Grandad). They were magical; they had lived in South Africa. I remember my Granny's hugs, and she always smelled of raspberry jam, which she was always making...

My daughter had a good relationship with her grandparents, and I have made a point of having a good relationship with my grandchildren.

It does sound as if your grandfather loved you and was very proud of you. He sounds like a character. Somehow, in the movie of your life, I can see your grandfather being played by Alan Arkin. I can just imagine him throwing open the door and yell, "This is my granddaughter! Isn't she beautiful?" When I read that, I can hear it in Alan Arkin's voice. :-)

Jo said...

I LOVE that painting, by the way. :-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Ian,

You've written about your grandmother before. You were so lucky to have her, and to share such a warm bond with her.

Jo,

My grandfather was a great character. He and my grandmother sparred constantly but couldn't live without each other, although he died about 20 years sooner.

When my late husband and I took her to dinner at a Miami Beach steak house soon after our marriage, he was craving a big juicy steak but my Hungarian-born grandmother, whose beauty rivaled the Gabors, batted her long eyelashes at him and cooed, "Don't you think you should have the goulash in my honor?" He did the gallant thing and ate slop while everyone else had steaks.

I love the watercolor on this post too. I'd never heard of the artist, but his work reminds me of yours.

Katy said...

All but one of my grandparents were dead by the time I was born (and Grandpa Louie died when I was 7) so I can relate to the growing up without a grandparent relationship.

Do I think it has anything to do with your lack of Grandchildren? No.

I wish my mom were more like you though.. I have an 11 year old and I still get requests from my mom to get married and have another baby... because right now (with my youngest nephew turning 18) our family is babyless.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Katy,

Perhaps it's time to gently remind your mom that no matter how many babies there are, they all grow up too soon. Your daughter was one not so long ago, too.

Elaine Steward said...

Interesting musings.

More demographics for your database: When I was born, I had a living paternal grandfather, a living maternal grandmother, and a living maternal step-grandfather.

All 9 grandchildren loved my grandfather, however remote. We have good, "He didn't have favorites" memories. He seemed interested when my sister, brother, and I saw him at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We lived with him for short periods of time during the depression and after WWII.

During WWII, while my father served in the Navy in the South Pacific, we lived with my grandmother and step grandfather. In my memory, Grandpa Bob was far more interested in me than was my grandmother.

All three were dead by the time I was 13.

While I have no biological grandchildren, there are 10 kids about whom I feel "grandmotherly." Does that count?

Just had to throw some disparate numbers into the mix ;-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Elaine,

I know who all those children are, and yes, you do have a large family of grandkids around you. And your disparate numbers are always welcome. :)

I think I was my maternal grandfather's favorite - I was a spitfire, which he admired, plus I looked enough like my mother, his oldest and favorite child, that he occasionally called me by her name not out of senility, but as a compliment. Which it was.

TechnoBabe said...

No, I don't think knowing ones grandparents seals the deal in having ones own grandchildren. I grew up in California and paternal grandparents were a couple hours drive from the area I grew up but I was around them occasionally and not close at all. They died when I was young, about 7. Maternal grandparents lived in North
Dakota and I saw them maybe three times total and they also died when I was young, the grandfather when I was about 9 and the grandmother when I was 12. It didn't seem to matter because I didn't know any of them or have a relationship with them. I have 4 grandchildren but they live so far away I don't see them. We do email. You live closer to them than I do.

Pea said...

wow. I loved my Grandparents all 4 of them. I was closest to the ones on my dad's side only because the Pacific Ocean separated me me from my maternal Gps. My Grandma wrote me a lot of letters when I was a teen warning all about the dangers of adolescence: drugs, sex, flunking out of school, peer pressure-all that stuff. I read them with rolling eyes but saved every one and when I read them now I cry because she was right about everything and wrote with so much love and concern. Recently, while was visiting my friend, I had a dream that I was old and had a child in my arms and was giving her life advice and when I woke up I knew I had been thinking about my Grandma. Whether or not I am destined to be a Grandma someday because I was close to mine I don't know but I sure am thankful I had them for the short precious time that I did. You post made me think of that :o)

Maria said...

I knew my grandparents. One grandfather died of emphysema. The other was an alcoholic who beat his wife and children, including my mother. One grandmother hated my mother, probably because she was her clone. The other grandmother died when I was an infant and everyone said she was a saint. She stood up to my grandfather after years of beatings and then raised their seven children on a salary that she earned by working for Ma Bell as an operator nights.

If I have grandchildren (and according to my daughter with whom I recently had the birds and bees talk) she is NEVER having children because it makes her nauseated to think of doing THAT with a boy. So, oh well...I'll just be that crazy woman in the haunted house. Suits me.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Babe,

I tend to think it's sad when children don't have relationships with their grandparents, but when I realize that many grandparents were really bad parents, I reconsider. Not all people are fit to raise children, or have an influence on them.

Pea,

It's indeed wonderful that you have such happy and comforting memories of your grandparents, and I'm sure it was a great joy for them, too. You are far too young to be wondering if you'll have grandchildren, though, so let's talk about this in about 20 years or so.

Maria,

Yeah, they usually get over that, sometimes a lot sooner than we like. But if you are inclined toward being the crazy woman in the haunted house, I don't think your status as a grandmother would make a difference, so just embrace it.

the only daughter said...

I met my dad's parents, divorced by the time I was born--so always on separate ground.

My mom's dad died when she was 11 (or so) thus, I never met him, but my mom's mom, "big mama" I grew up with. She didn't die until my early twenties. I loved her dearly. Still, actually.

My children 28 and 25 respectively don't seem inclined to have children. Well, to be precise, my daughter has spoken of the possibility of the day, but I present she seems content to live vicariously through her best friend who is due in about six weeks. ;-)

I'm in no hurry to be a grandmother, but as you say--yay or nay--it isn't at all about me (us). :-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

OD,

Yes, that's the only relevant factor and the bottom line in this discussion -- it's not about us. Which is only fair - we made our choices. We shouldn't get to make our children's too.