A couple of Sundays ago, my in-laws were in town and the weather was gorgeous. It’s not very often we can sit outdoors at the end of July in the deep South without melting, so the weather was a rare summer treat. It was 85 degrees and breezy, so we parked ourselves in the Adirondack chairs in the shade overlooking the lagoon at the edge of our yard and enjoyed the view and the beautiful weather.
I love my backyard. What my house lacks in size my yard makes up for in scenery and wide-open space for my children to run, play, and explore. We relaxed to the sounds of the wind through the cattails, the cicadas humming in the trees, and the squirrels scurrying from branch to branch “chattering” as they played. My girls lounged in the hammock talking about anything and everything. My son and I started a game of 500 Rummy the wind later carried away, and my in-laws joined us by the water for some easy conversation and critter watching. The South is FULL of critters that don’t appeal to my New Jersey-born MIL, and being a transplanted Southerner, I’m not particularly fond of them myself. My son, however, loves all living creatures, even the slimy and spiny ones, and quickly transitioned from our blown game of cards to looking through his great-grandfather’s Bushnell binoculars at the snapping turtles sunning at the edge of the lagoon.
My Grandma Virginia, later dubbed “Nanny” by my kiddos, taught me how to play Rummy, both 500 and Gin, when I was very young. She was such a cool lady for so many reasons, but one of my fondest memories is playing cards and anagrams with her at her metal kitchenette table. My Great-Aunt Trudy sometimes joined us, but when she played we always ended up with missing tiles. As it turned out, the letters she drew and didn’t like she hid in her mouth. It goes without saying that Trudy was an odd bird. Yes, Nanny started me early, probably because of the tremendous amount of time we spent together as well as the fact that she needed a partner she could trust!
It’s safe to say I spent the bulk of my first decade at Nanny’s house. She was always singing while she did her daily chores, and in turn taught me the songs. I don’t know many preschoolers who could sing “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” but we sang it as often as we did the “Alphabet Song.” I actually believed she really enjoyed all of the housework and cooking she did because she hummed and whistled through all of her tasks like Cinderella. Also much like Cinderella, she considered the squirrels that played in her backyard her pets and fed them bread scraps daily. Nanny taught me how to make piecrust from scratch with a rolling pin and butter knife, and even let me put my fingerprints all the way around the edge of the pie plate. She convinced me that broccoli and cauliflower were worthwhile vegetables, mostly because she smothered them in her delicious white cream sauce, and she opened my eyes to the beauty of tapioca pudding. Her basement was where I did some of my best work. My grandpa had an old RCA radio on his bookshelf and in between cooking lessons from my grandma, I taught myself every 80s song and dance move I could to the tunes from that old box. Nanny also had a little grey poodle named “Poco,” whom she adored far more than I did, and I still remember her red, tear-filled eyes the day she walked in the screened back porch door and told me he was gone.
My relationship with my grandma was one of the most special of my life, so it’s only natural I’d want the same for my children. I know my kiddos are pretty blessed in this department, but I wanted to hear their thoughts on it, so I asked them some of their favorite times spent with their grands.
“They say yes to ice cream and Grammy gets me mint chocolate chip every time they visit.”
“They are cool and old and live in a neat place.”
“I love when Grandma cooks for me.”
“Grandpa always has a lot of change in his pocket. You can always hear it jingle when he walks, and he always brings me gold dollar coins.”
“She plays Barbies with me. And Polly Pockets. And baby dolls.”
“Grandpa tells the goofiest jokes and best stories.”
Boy do grandparents tell stories, and the older Nanny got, the more candid and interesting her stories were. I remember thinking when I was little, “Why does she keep telling me all of this stuff about people and places I don’t know??” I’m sure I had something more important to do, like climb the redbud tree in her backyard or pick the grapes off of her grapevine, but those stories that bored me as a child I now treasure, and was lucky enough to have her document for me before she passed. Grandparents are the key to our family’s history, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to know so much of Nanny’s life and history and that my children are learning the same from their grands.
Don’t get me wrong; grandparents are just as fallible as the rest of us. I know both of my grandmothers got a little (or a lot) loose-lipped with certain details we kids shouldn’t or weren’t ready to know. It seemed the older they got the less their verbal filters seemed to work, and their age and positions as the matriarchs were the only validation they needed. Likewise, the more they shared, the less my grandfathers did. Their approach was quiet companionship, as if they’d either reached such a level of contentment and peace in life that they no longer needed to outwardly communicate or they just didn’t know how to. I suspect it was a combination of both.
Attachment parenting isn’t just for moms and dads. Children emulate their grandparents in a magical, mysterious way because they are their parents’ parents, and it’s intriguing to them to think about their parents as once being children, too. The bond between grandparent and grandchild can have just as strong of an impact as the bond between parent and child. It doesn’t really require much to forge that bond. It only requires showing up and showing interest, and occasionally, a little compassion and understanding.
As the years passed, my regular phone calls with Nanny became fewer as her hearing faded. I knew she couldn’t hear all I was eagerly sharing with her when she started to agree with everything I said regardless of the content. She was so sweet – it was enough for her to just hear my voice even if she couldn’t make out a word I was saying to her. And that’s the way it was with her love for me.
I did my best to visit her regularly, and I’m happy to say she met all four of my children before she left us. When my Nanny’s time came to leave this earth, I was there. When I arrived to say farewell, it was as if she was waiting for me. She was hooked up to every tube and machine imaginable, and she had been unresponsive for days. The numbers on her monitors had been slowly and steadily creeping downward as she slipped away. As soon I walked into the room and touched her hand and said “Hello,” her heart rate increased, as did her breathing. Now I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for her physical reaction that dispels what I’m about to say, but I knew she knew I was there, and she was letting me know. This was a woman who welcomed me as I began my earthly journey and cared for me every day of her life until her very last one. Just hours after I arrived to bid her farewell, her journey ended. Words cannot adequately describe what a beautiful, sad, and precious evening that was.
I know my relationship with my grandma was exceptionally unique in the level of closeness and time spent together. My son said to me recently, “We’re lucky to have such good grandparents. They aren’t all that way.” He is so right. Just like parents, all grandparents aren’t created equally, but the silver lining is what’s lacking in one relationship makes the others that much more special. I am who I am largely because of Nanny. She wasn’t always perfect, but she was pretty close. Her unconditional love shaped my direction in life, but the best thing about her was I could trust her with my feelings and opinions. She supported them with a kind and happy acceptance that let me know I never need worry about sharing them with her – even when she couldn’t make out the words I was saying – and that made me want to share them even more.
This year on my fortieth birthday, I received a shoebox- shaped package in the mail from my mom. Inside was my favorite trinket, which was once a fixture in Nanny’s bedroom, a bone china doll, “Cissie.” I must have spent years admiring all of her pretties on her headboard shelf, but this one was my favorite. I was speechless when I unwrapped the layers of tissue paper and saw Cissie’s hand-painted pink dress, yellow bouquet of roses, and blue eyes staring back at me. She is on proud display in my room, right next to the portrait of Nanny.
I may not be able to share with her all the goings on in my children’s lives or have her agreeably listen on the other end of the phone, but I have so many amazingly wonderful memories spent with her. Most significantly, I learned so much about love from that little five foot two Bible-toting lady: love is patient, kind, and never boastful. My hope is that my children continue to grow and cultivate their grand relationships in their own special ways.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”