When We Were Young

Posted: May 26, 2011 in Life, Relationships
Tags: , , , ,

What’s your earliest childhood memory? Is it playing on the merry-go-round on the playground at school? Your mom singing you a lullaby? Or maybe you’re one of those who actually don’t remember anything from your childhood. Whether you remember them or not, those memories still exist and I’m sure someone in your family can tell you all about them.

So here’s the deal. I really only asked what your earliest memory was so I could tell you mine. I remember being somewhere around four years old, and at that time my mom and I lived kitty corner, across the alley, from my grandparents. So when Mom had to be at work at 7am, she’d scoop me out of bed, throw a Smurf comforter over me, and carry me over to grandma and grandpa’s. She’d lay me down on the couch in the living room and back asleep I’d fall. I can still hear the crunch of the gravel under her shoes, and feel the scratchiness of the comforter on my face. So why this memory? Why is it SO ingrained in my head? I think the answer to that is because of who I got to see when I woke up on grandma and grandpa’s couch. Grandpa.

For the first 10 years of my life, my grandpa was my world–and mornings with grandpa quickly became my favorite time of the day. Once I woke up, we’d head up to the bar for breakfast. Yes. The bar. We’d hop on grandpa’s riding lawnmower and ride up the alley about a block and a half to the back door of Mary & Wayne’s. Grandpa was a drinker, but I don’t really remember him drinking much. I do remember him smoking the shit out of some Swisher Sweets though. Every morning, I’d hop up on the counter, sit underneath a Budweiser Clydesdales globe thing (which is STILL in the same place in the bar, although the bar itself has been renamed), and eat white toast with strawberry jelly (which is STILL my favorite).

Because of grandpa, EVERYONE in my town of 450 knew who I was. Not that they wouldn’t have anyway, but still to this day, people in that town will sit with me and recount memories of grandpa and I. One of their favorite stories to tell is how at the age of four, I used to sit up at the bar and read the paper to him in the morning.  Now I know that sometimes small town folk have a tendency to exaggerate, but it’s no lie. Remember how I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was only in kindergarten for a month because I could read so well? Grandpa is the reason why. He used to play these word games with me–he’d take anywhere from four to eight words that would form a sentence, and would mix them up. I’d then have to put them in order to make the original sentence. We played these games every day and I don’t know if I loved the games, or just loved being with grandpa–but either way, it worked.

As I got older, my love for grandpa didn’t wane. He could do no wrong in my book. Even though by some of his children’s accounts, he hadn’t been a great father–he was the perfect grandfather in my eyes. One of the other things grandpa taught me was how to play cribbage. Rarely did I beat him, but again–I’m not sure if I loved the game, or just loved being with grandpa. To be honest, I haven’t played cribbage since Christmas Eve of 1992. That was grandpa’s last Christmas Eve and I think he knew it. He’d been battling emphysema as a result of his love for Swisher Sweets and that night when we sat down to play cribbage, he looked across his desk at me with what I could have SWORN were tears in his eyes and said, “I can’t Steph. I can’t see.” I quietly picked back up the cribbage pieces, told him it was okay, and the night went on as though nothing had happened.

I don’t remember the next part real well, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. About a week later though, grandpa went into the ICU. I called him every night before I went to bed, and then Thursday, January 7th rolled around. Thursdays used to be church nights and by the time I’d get home it was after 8, and by the time I took a bath it was going on 8:30. So that night, I went to bed, with mom making the promise that I could talk to grandpa the next day. Except I didn’t, because sometime that night, grandpa passed away. I don’t resent my mom for that in any way, shape, or form–but for a long time I did wonder if it would have made a difference had I called that night. I know now the answer is no, but when you’re 10 it’s harder to comprehend.

I don’t remember crying at his funeral, which seems odd to me, but I think maybe I didn’t fully understand what was happening. I do remember putting a copy of my last report card in his coffin though. He’d always been SO proud of how well I did in school–as he should have been since he’d had so much to do with it. Grandpa was 68 when he died, which as I get older, realize that’s not THAT old. He’d be 86 now, and I don’t know that if circumstances had been different if he would’ve made until now, but there are absolutely times I wish that he’d hung around a little bit longer. He would have loved to have seen me graduate from high school, and college. Seen me go to prom, get my first job. You see…grandpa had all those milestones with his own children, but from what I know about how my mom and her brothers and sisters were raised…grandpa wasn’t always present so to speak. He wasn’t the dad most children would hope for, and I think I was his redo. I think that he maybe thought if he could do with me what he should have done with his own children, that somehow everything would be right with the world. I don’t know if it worked or not, but for the 10 years I had him, I don’t remember ever thinking there was anything WRONG with the world–far from it in fact.

I don’t know how close any of you are to your grandparents, or if you have exceptionally fond memories of them. I’m sure with some of you, you never even knew your grandparents. I saw a quote this morning that said, “A grandpa is someone you never outgrow the need for.” And that’s true. I have another grandpa and I love him to pieces, but I’m selfish and would really like my other one to still be here. Here I am 28 years old, and whenever someone compliments my writing, or gives me shit about how fast I read–grandpa immediately comes to mind. Maybe you don’t have this connection with a grandparent, but I’m betting that all of you have at least one person who’s had a dramatic effect on your life. Maybe the person who has affected you is still alive, maybe they aren’t. Either way, thank them. If they’re still here, hug them, tell them thank you, and let them know how much you appreciate whatever it is they’ve done for you. If they’re not still here, you can still thank them. Regardless of what you believe about where they are, they live on in your hearts and your souls, and can absolutely still hear you.

Maybe you can come at this story from another angle too. Maybe you’re a parent and the first time around, you didn’t do so well with your children. I can’t speak a lot on that part not having had children yet, but I think there’s always a shot at redemption. I don’t know that my mom or her siblings ever fully came to terms with the person their dad had been, but I think being able to watch him and see how good he was to me, softened them at the very least. Grandpa wasn’t an emotional guy. He rarely said, “I love you,” and I don’t think that with his own children he’d ever really gone out of his way to hug them–but that changed with me. He showed his softer side with me, and maybe that meant something to some of them, maybe it didn’t. But you know what? It meant something to me. He made a difference in MY life…and sometimes one is all it takes.

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Comments
  1. wmarsau says:

    Fantastic blog! Without a doubt grandparents are very special in our lives. They help define who we are. I know the relationship I have with my grandma Rose is rare and wonderful. I cherish everyday that I have with her and I will miss her so much when she is gone.

  2. Lindsey says:

    Absolutely awesome blog, Steph!

  3. Mom says:

    Hey dear daughter of mine:) You are much too wise for your young age!!! I loved it! Thanks for another GREAT one! RIP Dad! Love, mamabear

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