By: Patricia Walters-Fischer RN
Celebrating Grandparents Day (Anyday). One of the most amazing gifts I ever received from anyone was a cassette tape. It wasn’t just any cassette tape, it was of a conversation that my aunt (who gave the gift) had with my great-grandmother. The conversation didn’t reveal any family secrets or great tragedies. It was a simple conversation about my great-grandmother’s life growing up as a daughter of a Baptist missionary. There were things I didn’t know about her, things she’d never told be or I’d never asked her, or knew to ask.
For so many years, I only thought of her as my great-grandmother and here was this woman who had lived a life I knew very little about.
Why is this important?
I bring it up because today (September 7th) is Grandparents Day and I want you to ask yourself what do you know about your grandparents or your parents for that matter?
Do you know what their favorite color is?
The first movie they saw?
What were they doing the day Kennedy was killed? Or the men walked on the moon?
Who was their first crush?
Did they or do they have a favorite candy?
Is there a moment in their lives that they most cherish? Why?
What’s their favorite song? Why?
I know I am fortunate. I come from a long-line of storytellers. Growing up, I had all four grandparents and two great-grandmothers, all of whom loved to talk about their lives growing up. From stories I discovered the hardships my Danish immigrant great-grandparents went through. My great-grandmother, Minnie, told me of how she survived after becoming a widow with three small children right as the Great Depression hit. My grandmother, Norma, told me how she survived despite being orphaned by age 5 years old and by 16 years old, she’d graduated high school South in the late thirties.
My grandmother, Charlotte, told me of how her grandmother, India, would send Charlotte down to the corner store everyday to purchase snuff and “trashy” romance novels. India would then spend the afternoon on her chaise lounge, doin’ snuff (hey, it’s Texas. Women were tough—still are) and reading paperback romance pieces. Charlotte always talked about how “mortified” she was to have to purchase the books, not the snuff but the books! I’m forever grateful that I heard Charlotte tell me that story because that’s something you have to hear from the source to appreciate.
There are those stories you hear and then those you experience.
I will never forget asking my grandfather one day “What TV shows did you watch growing up?” and his sweet smirk in response. “We didn’t have TV growing up. In fact, there was no TV when I was your age.”
That’s only one of many conversations I had as I slowly began to understand this person, this older person in my life had lead a huge portion of their lives before I was even a flicker in the world.
Even with my family members being talkers, I look back and wish I’d asked so many questions that I simply didn’t know to ask. That memory will forever be lost and I’ll never know little things about them.
Me (age 16y) and my grandfather, Boppa Jack–he’s 89 years now
As I grow older, I understand and appreciate the amazing barriers and changes my grandparents have gone through. Many have gone from living without electricity and no indoor plumbing to seeing a man walk on the moon and now history being made in the run for the White House.
So after all that, ask yourself, what do you know of your grandparents or parents as someone other than your parents or grandparents?
What do you know about the childhood of your grandparents or parents? Their lives before you or your siblings came along and what do you know about them now?
And if you know little about them as people, ask them. If you’re hesitant to do so, remember this:
There is a great line in the movie Don Juan de Marco (if you haven’t seen it—watch it!) where Marlon Brando asks Faye Dunaway “I want to know your dreams and what you want out of life.”
She’s crying and he asks her why and she says “I thought you’d never ask.”
Sometimes people only want to be asked to talk about themselves. You might be surprised how much they will open up when someone is there to listen.
If they’ll allow it, record it per audio or video, if not, take good notes.
Then, one day, when they aren’t around anymore, you might be able to give the gift of seeing or hearing them again or re-reading your notes.
What a beautiful gift that could be for yourself, and more specifically, your children to know who came before them.