Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Grandparent Legacy

Happy Grandparents Day! Yes, I get it. It's another made-up Hallmark card holiday. But it comes as a reminder to me about my own grandparents and how different their lives were than mine as a grandparent.

I'm in the middle of putting together a family album for my own grandchildren, so I've been immersed in pictures and stories of my grandparents, as well as of my parents as grandparents to my daughter. It was my experience that even that one generational change from people born in the late 19th century to those born in the early 20th century altered the way grandparents relate to their children's children.

Now, maybe this is just the way my family played it, since I know many people my age who had very touchy-feely grandparents. I, however, did not. Yes, there was a greeting - a kiss, a hug - though most of the time I was the one urged on to hug/kiss. The child had to make the first dutiful move. It was always perfunctory. I was never grabbed up, swung around, and smothered with kisses. And to be honest, I think that would've freaked me out.

That is not to say that my grandparents didn't love me. I never doubted that. They just showed love in different ways than I do with Liam and Charlotte or that Mother and Daddy did with Kate. I do think it's telling that I don't have any photos of me with any of my grandparents. There may be some somewhere, but I don't have them or remember seeing them. But, here is what I remember, without the aid of pictures.

I got to watch Grandmother (Frazier) wring a chicken's neck, prepare the bird, and serve up some of the best fried chicken ever - which probably took away any fear I might've had of eating dead animals (long live carnivores!) at an early age. She was a hard-working farm woman who never sat with us at the table, but on a stool away from us near the stove so that she could jump up and replenish any little bite we'd eaten. She was out of bed before I was and went to bed after me. I'm not convinced she ever slept. She always looked old. And I always gave her Jergens Lotion for Christmas. She made the quilt that's on my bed right now. She lived to the ripe old age of 93 (1900-1993).

Daddy Rob (Frazier) kept us giggling with his side comments (usually about Grandmother) and always had some little something on hand that he knew we loved, like a kitten for my sister Cindy. He was a hard-working farmer. I remember lots of times sitting on the front porch of the farmhouse with him - sometimes talking, sometimes not. He was a quiet man with a wicked sense of humor. He had a hacking smoker's cough and rolled his own cigarettes. He, too, was out of bed before the rest of us. He let us ride his old horse Dan, and we loved every minute of it. He always looked old. And I remember when we were driving from his funeral to the cemetery, farmers along the way stopped their tractors and took off their hats as we passed.

Mama, which is what we called Mother's mother, probably because that's what our mother and aunts called her, took time to sit with me to sound out words in a little reader. Thanks to her, I knew at a very early age the difference between "our" and "hour." To be honest, I was too far down her grandchild-list to have been one of her favorites. She had four daughters who gave her eight grandchildren. I was number 5, plus a girl, so by the time I came on the scene she just wasn't that into it. (That said, she did highly favor my cousin Steve, who was born a few months after me.) I remember being a little afraid of her. She was strong, strong, strong and people rarely crossed her. She died around the time of my 16th birthday.

I'd love to tell you about my grandfather, George Warren Bartow, but I don't have much to offer. He was out of Mama's house by the time I was born. It came as a shock to me when I was 7 or 8 years old and some man turned up at a family gathering at Aunt Peggy's house who was introduced as my grandfather. It never occurred to me that I had a grandfather on that side of the family. I guess little me assumed that Mama had created and raised those girls alone. Anyway, I do know that he was - what? - 1/2 Cherokee. He was a quiet, loving man (as told by my Aunt Nell), but he coped with his life with my strong grandmother by drinking. I remember going to his graveside service when he died, but I'm not sure how old I was - early teens, maybe.

Mother and Daddy were totally different grandparents. They were hands-on, huggy-kissy, spoil-'em-rotten grandparents. They unabashedly loved every minute of being with their five grandchildren. We have lots of happy, active pictures of the children with Mother and Daddy. Pictures like Daddy reading to a lapful of little children to Mother and little Kate at a Braves baseball game. They were present. And I know that Kate will have many more stories to tell about them than I have to tell of my own grandparents.

So, yes, Happy Grandparents Day. Especially to my own grandparents and to my parents who showed me how it should be done. I hope you all are celebrating the lives of your children, grand- , great-grand, and great-great-grandchildren as you look down from your heavenly homes.

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