A Celebration of Grandparents
by Michael Morris
While Motherís Day and Fatherís Day receive the fan fare they deserve, there is another holiday set aside for a family member who is typically overlooked. It is often difficult to even find a card honoring Grandparentís Day and yet grandparents have always played a pivotal role in society. With an estimated 2.5 million grandparents raising grandchildren in this country, the contributions of grandparents are more important than ever before.
Grandparents provide children with a sense of place and self. In an increasingly transient society the oral history that grandparents provide makes otherwise faded photographs come to life and secures children with an identity that will last a lifetime. Even the pattern of speech and dialect in which grandparents share their stories help children better understand their roots. As a southerner it is always refreshing to hear my ninety-three year old grandfather tell stories about his childhood. The rhythm of his voice and the euphemisms he twirls off of his tongue are part of my unique make-up and culture. It is a force that reminds me that no matter how far I roam, rural Northern Florida will always go with me.
Beyond heritage, perhaps the greatest contributions grandparents make is that of unconditional love. Having a less than idyllic early childhood with an abusive biological father, my grandmother and grandfather became beacons in my own life. In a trailer next door to my grandparentsí home, my mother and I were sheltered in a safe haven of love and protection. One of my fondest memories is of my grandmother asking me to list out all of the people who loved me, with her reminding me of extended family members I might have missed. It was a ritual that was played out daily in those early, difficult years. The intensity of her green eyes and the softness of her smile were like lasers stripping away past hurts. Yet, as my mother worked to support us financially, my grandmother was careful never to over-step the bounds owed to a mother. She always deferred to my mother on any requests that would require travel beyond the boundaries of her yard but come to think of it there were a few places that managed to entice me away. There was a sense of security in their home that let me believe all was right in the world.
Every chance I get I return to the home of my grandparents. The paint outside is now faded and my grandfatherís prized canna lilies no longer spill across the side of the home but the interior remains unchanged. My grandfather can still be found in his recliner occupying the same corner as he did thirty years ago and the ancient TV continues to guard the living room. But not everything is exactly the same. Each time I walk through the door I long to smell fried chicken sizzling in the kitchen and hear the light-hearted welcome that only my grandmother could give. Itís been seventeen years since my grandmother spoke to me for the last time. The day she squeezed my arm and told me, ďYouíll never know how much I love you.Ē Now it seems some how appropriate that she passed away on Grandparentís Day, the day we officially celebrate our grandparents.
Family photographs still line the hallway shelves at my grandparentsí home. At the top is one of my grandmother as a young woman standing with her parents in front of their wooden home, a place that like them has slipped away with time. Black and white photographs intermingle with more recent ones, recording every wedding, birth and family reunion in our familyís life. The people in the photographs, both those I know and those known only through stories told by my grandparents, are as much a part of me as the hands I use to clutch the picture frames.
Grandparents give us an identity that can be transported from the rural south to the big cities and from the Pacific Islands to the Baltic coast. The love of grandparents and the love they provide are universal experiences that bind us beyond culture, religion and ethnicity. On Grandparentís Day let us pause to celebrate our grandparentsóthose with us and those now with us only in our hearts. It is one day out of the year that has been set aside to publicly honor their contributions but it is every day that we should cherish the gifts our grandparents have given us.
Michael Morris is the author of Slow Way Home and A Place Called Wiregrass.
© 2003, Michael Morris, All Rights Reserved