Talking ’bout Generations

Generation 1 grinning from ear-to-ear while hugging generation 3--I love grandma's smile

Generation 1 grinning from ear-to-ear while hugging generation 3–I love the smile

Upon reflecting on spending Saturday morning with Great-grandparents, Grandparents, Parents, and child, the continuum struck me as profound.  I now have five close friends who are grandparents.  Everyone of them says being a grandparent is the best experience in the world–they don’t actually have to say that, the look on their faces says it all.

Perhaps it brings a sigh of relief knowing that you can pass the baton and let your child be the one who does all the hard stuff while you sweep in to blow raspberries on baby’s belly or to spoil a toddler with cookies at breakfast or let a ‘tween do something they’re not allowed to do with a wink and a shared secret never to be told to your children?

Sleepy face on Generation 4

Sleepy face on Generation 4

I am reminded of my own grandparents.  My father’s parents were born before the turn of the century–the 20th, that is.  My father was a late comer in their lives, born when they were in their 40’s.  By the time I arrived on the scene, they were nearly 70.

They were still fun people, albeit moving slowly, until I was about 12 or so.  We saw them twice a year, living about a 10-hour drive away.  Grandma always baked for us.  She made fancy homemade cakes for my brother’s birthday at Christmas.  But what really got us excited wasn’t the cake.  It was her marshmallow treats.  We had never had them before my grandmother made them for us the first time.  She set the standard.

My grandmother also made the best strawberry preserves I ever ate in my life.  Grandma’s strawberry preserves were so darn good, I still drool whenever I think about them.  I used to regret not learning from her how to make them, but now I think the memory of those preserves is sacred.  Grandma’s secret ingredient in all her recipes was an infusion of love.  Eating her goodies was like a sacrament–the embodiment of all that she hoped to pass down to us.

Generation 3 holding generation 4 and looking like only a proud papa madly in love with his baby girl can look

Generation 3 holding generation 4 and looking like only a proud papa madly in love with his baby girl can look

My grandfather did not bake.  Rather, he was just downright silly.  He was world-class when it came to horse play.  Whether it was chasing us around the house (irritating Grandma with our shrieks of joy), bouncing us on his knee, or pretending to steal our noses, Grandpa’s genuine goofiness was a crowd pleaser.

The most poignant moment of visiting Grandma and Grandpa always came when we waved goodbye.  Armed with a bag of candies to get us safely home again, we waved out the back window of the station wagon and watched Grandma bury her tear-streaked face in Grandpa’s shoulder as we disappeared from view.  I asked my mom once why Grandma always cried when we left.  Mom said something about Grandma missing us when we’re gone.  I didn’t figure out until many years later that it was because every time she said goodbye, she thought it would be the last.

Generation 4 rebooting

Generation 4 rebooting

My Mother’s Mother

I stumbled across these old photos I scanned into the computer years ago.  They tell a story of hope.  Hope that a person can start over again in the middle of life.  The first two photos are from my grandparents wedding day.  They were in their 40’s, not far off from my age now.

In all the family lore I heard about my grandmother’s history, I never heard how my grandparents met, why they fell in love, what made my grandmother marry my grandfather.

The story that took center stage on my mother’s side of the family happened long before my mother was born.  It was the story of my grandmother’s survival.

My grandmother emigrated to the United States either from Hungary or Germany–the family lived in both places–when she was about 7, if I recall correctly.  I remember being told she had about a 3rd grade education, so I’m not sure if she went to school in the US after she got here.  Wherever she immigrated from, her family spoke German.  I know this well because many years later, when she was losing her mind, she reverted to speaking German again and couldn’t understand why no one knew what she was saying.

The story I was told was that my grandmother had 6 babies starting when she was 16 and the last when she was 24.  2 of them did not survive.  When she was about 26, with 4 young daughters, she awakened one morning to find her husband dead in the bed next to her.

In the same year, her mother died and her distraught father committed suicide.  Orphaned and widowed and left with 4 young children to support on her 3rd grade education, she turned to the Catholic church for support and turned her children over to a home for children so she could work as a live-in maid.

I don’t know the story as to how she got out of that line of work.  What I do know is that her children remained in the Catholic home until they graduated from the 8th grade, each having to choose between becoming a nun and leaving the home at the age of 13.  Only one of my aunts became a nun.

However it happened, my grandmother ended up on the church steps in these photos smiling on the second wedding day of her life.  They were still poor, but my grandfather supported my grandmother, leaving her free to take care of my mother when she surprised them by appearing so late in their lives.

What this story needs is a happy ending.  I’m not sure that it has one.  I remember my grandparents mostly as bitter, angry people.  We saw them only for about 6 days of the year most years, but their screaming arguments were what we most remembered.

Yet, my grandmother was still quick to smile and laughed often.  Maybe her happiness just looked different from what I expected?