I wish I had listened more to my grandmother. She died when I was nineteen and she was well into her nineties. By then she had ceased most of her storytelling and was content just to sit quietly, enjoying the chaos of our large family gatherings. As a child I recall spending nights with her in her apartment. My mother felt it would provide company for her after my grandfather died. In truth, I was much more interested in exploring the high-rise where she lived than in being much of a companion. She used to take me upstairs to the restaurant on the top floor. While waiting for our food to arrive, she would point out places in Denver where she lived and went to school. My ears did perk up when she mentioned her neighbor, Margaret Brown. At the time, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was debuting in theaters and so the fact that my grandmother knew the real character was fascinating. I learned that she was nothing like the movie portrayal. “She was a lady,” my grandmother insisted. “She never would have danced on tabletops!”
I suppose we all have regrets about the stories we didn’t hear – from parents as well as grandparents. I wish I had asked Grannanny more about her life in early Denver. Her family crossed the country in a covered wagon so she knew about the pioneer spirit. During her lifetime she witnessed the invention of the automobile, the jetliner and the first flights into space. I would give anything to hear her account of what it was like to see her three sons go off to war or how she handled the loss of two babies through miscarriage. Mostly, I would like to know how she would advise me to age with grace the way she did.
Perhaps the loss of these opportunities has made me more attuned to the lovely way in which I see grandparents relating to their grandchildren. Thanks to Skype and email, many stay in touch even though they are miles apart. Just last night a proud grandmother showed me photos on her cell phone of her three grandchildren in South Africa. They had just completed a puzzle and were anxious to show her the results.
Not long ago, I facilitated a workshop on family and asked the group to identify a model of faith. Not surprisingly, many of them named a grandparent. They went on to say that it wasn’t what their grandparent told them, necessarily, but how they lived their lives with dignity, compassion, and good humor. While I can’t go back and reclaim any lost time with my grandmother, I can derive hope and encouragement from her lifelong faith and her gentle manner. Perhaps as I age, I will learn, like her, to talk less and enjoy the life around me more. It is one of her many gifts to me.