Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s passing. Looking back I did not think I was so young when she passed, but I was. Since her passing, three of her four grandchildren graduated from high school, all four of us started college, two have graduated college, and one has gotten married. That’s a lot of time and family events where she hasn’t been present.
Unlike my father’s side of the family, I don’t have the luxury of knowing second and third cousins or the background of my great-great-great-great- grandparents when it comes to my maternal family. My mother never talked about her grandparents, and if she did, it was never at length. I’ve heard my grandfather talk about his father once in my twenty years of life and it happened two years ago at Thanksgiving. I don’t remember what prompted the conversation but he called him a “rotten bastard” and that is the only thing I know about my great grandfather. While both my grandparents had siblings, we never held many family functions with them– I know at some point my grandmother was estranged from her sister long before I was born.
You are probably thinking, “Wow, Lauren. Why are you telling me about your
grim family history?” Well, because two weeks ago, I was reminded of the love that only exists within a family. My maternal grandparents had three children–two boys and a girl. My mother was no doubt a surprise. She was born in 1965 when her siblings were 14 and 17 and her parents in their early 40’s. Hello unconventional.
I’ve struggled dealing with having older grandparents for much of my life because I often felt like time was stolen from me–almost like I didn’t have enough time with my grandmother. But, as I get older, I am seeing the perks–and I am proud of having older grandparents. My maternal grandfather celebrated his 92nd birthday in July and to mark the occasion the whole family came to town. My mom’s oldest brother lives with his wife in California– so having all twelve us in the same zip code is reason enough to celebrate.
There we were–me, my sister, my parents, my cousins, my uncles, their significant others, and my grandfather–in my living room. We were talking over each other and laughing and eating. In that moment, it was the first time I was not angry or upset at having a small maternal side of my family. I was appreciative. It didn’t matter to us that we could not talk at length about great grandparents or cousins. What mattered was the three generations in that room because that is all we have.
As my grandfather’s health begins to deteriorate, I find myself pulling out old photo albums more frequently and asking my grandfather to tell stories of yesteryear. He is a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, and has shared as many WWII stories as he is willing to share with his family–although the day will come when I march myself down to the Library of Congress and listen to the tapes of oral history he recorded of the stories I know he will not share.
As a young girl, I would pass the time at my grandparents house by looking at the photo albums they kept under the television. This time around, I pulled out a photo album from the early 1950s to show my cousin, Sarah. There were photos of my grandparents with their newborn son and my grandfather at his dental school graduation.
Out of the blue I asked, “How did you meet grandma?” The room fell quiet. Turns out in the six decades that my grandparents were married NOBODY bothered to ask how they met–and you know me–I’m a sucker for a good love story.
Without much detail he told the story “by the numbers” as I recorded:
“We met at Shillington High School in 1943. We spent seven or eight years avoiding each other and not speaking but eventually we got together. I left for the war in 1944. When I came home in spring of 1946, she was getting her nursing license and I needed to figure out what I was going to do with my life. So, I took the G.I. Bill and went to dental school. The G.I. Bill only lasted for four years…thank goodness I finished my degree. Anyhow…we got married on Sept. 1, 1946. I wanted to get married at the ballpark but Mother said no. Looking back your grandma was smart about that. But we had a baby a year later. Don’t try to tell me it was eight or nine months either…we did the math and made sure it was a year.”
As you can tell, my grandfather still has a sense of humor. I also love how he still refers to my grandmother as Mother and not by her name–very 1950’s. The crazy thing to think about is they were my age. My grandfather was 21 when he married my grandma. I will be 21 in six months! I cannot even imagine getting married let alone returning from war, getting an education, getting married, and having a child.
We spent the rest of the day looking at old photos of my grandparents and uncles….and eventually my mom. My grandpa may be short when it comes to words but one thing I will never argue is how much he loved my grandmother. You can just tell that they loved each other. It was a kind of love I could only dream of.