It's amazing what we learn and who we become from our youngest years.
My sister and I also had elderly neighbors who took an active role in our lives, and another elderly couple mentored me while in Bible school. Grandparents – and grandparent figures – are such an important influence. They teach us from life experience, and they take voluntary responsibility in shaping us and loving us. Our relationships with them train us how to relate to and respect our elders.
Last year, my maternal grandma turned 80. All of us grandkids were encouraged to write down some special memories for a scrapbook. When you start writing it all down, you realize just how much you love someone! The following is my tribute to Grandpa Bob and Grandma Pokey.
When I walk into their house, the wonderful smell makes me feel relaxed, peaceful, free, and at home. I am sure that’s because it was a “second home” to me from my earliest childhood. It felt like home, but there were so many special things we got to experience there that we didn’t have at home. So, everything about their house felt a little bit magical. Grandma had a doll collection and real gnomes and wonderful old storybooks that took us to wonderful places.
It seems like we often forgot our pajamas, but we loved sleeping in Grandma’s cozy turtlenecks. Maybe the best feeling in the world is to snuggle up next to Grandma Pokey for a bedtime story. She is the best bedtime story reader of all time. So many good books; the pop-ups were our favorites. She passed down a love of reading to us, and now our children are reaping the benefits!
Grandpa Bob had the raspberry bushes. Picking them and eating them off the tip of my finger (or someone else’s) was a delight. “Open your mouth and close your eyes, and I will give you a big surprise!” Bedtime snackie-wackies often included raspberries – with half n half or soy moo.
Grandpa made that shed into a spectacular playhouse, carpeted and complete with dolls, a crib, and a kitchen. We loved playing in there. A simple thing, but little did they know that playhouse was a “school” for life as I know it now! I believe Grandpa and Grandma played a big part in teaching me the important things in life, including raising a family and running a home. Homemade food and gardening are aspirations I have now because of Grandma. She always had that “kids’ drawer” stocked and ready for us to pretend in the kitchen.
We loved playing in the backyard. We fed the ducks, watched the birds, trapped squirrels, picked beans, swung, ran through the sprinkler in our undies (or not), “tanned” on the back steps, and played in the plastic pool. Always fun and laughter. The grown-ups would sit in lawn chairs and drink iced tea from those plastic cups. When cousins came, there was happy playing with the old toys, running, sledding, giggling, sleeping in tents, fun at the lake, and bike rides to the root beer stand. Sometimes we got to swim in the pool at the golf course.
Grandpa is a man of few words, but very affectionate. He openly hugged and kissed Grandma and all the rest of us, and always made a point to say “How’s my girl?” when we arrived and “I love you” when we left. After the wood shop was built, the smell of sawdust became a source of joy. We got to help Grandpa sweep, stack, make believe, sand, and do woodburning projects as he worked. Grandpa had kites for flying and a toboggan for riding and built a swing for swinging. We were always having fun. He built a dollhouse for Kelly and me, along with cedar chests for keepsakes. When I got married, he built me a beautiful striped cutting board and a recipe card holder. When we got our first apartment, he built us a walnut bookshelf which now stands in our living room.
I remember helping Uncle Joel stack wood, which Grandpa used to heat the basement. In the evening we sometimes watched a movie down there while eating Grandpa’s popcorn. It was the biggest, butteriest bucket of popcorn I had ever seen! At Christmas we often watched The Grinch. One Christmas Eve, us girls were sleeping in the rose room and Jackie told me the Grinch was in the closet. To this day, whenever I sleep at Grandma’s, I wonder if he is really in there!
At Christmas we sang carols around the piano while Grandma played, ate her gingerbread cookies, played Crazy 8s, and had our very own stockings with our names sewn on which we opened in the morning. We put out the cookies and milk for Santa, and found the crumbs in the morning.
Of course, the best Christmas memory of all was the year us little girls heard the sleigh bells on the roof. We jumped out of bed to tell the grown-ups and then – right outside the window – we witnessed the real Santa Claus walk right by in all the snow. Inexplicable joy, awe, wonder, excitement. It all happened at Grandpa and Grandma’s.
Coloring eggs was fun and the Easter Bunny hid our baskets well. Most of my Easters were celebrated at their house. We wore our pretty dresses, hats, and purses with pleasure and got to hear Grandma play the organ at Mass. At the end of Mass she always let us come and play, too. What a thrill! We felt so special and important. Standing next to Grandpa in church was one of my first experiences of the holiness of God. Grandpa was so big yet seemed to bow so low. And though he was quiet, his deep voice sang so loud! I loved to stand next to him and sing to God as loud as I could, too. During the Lord’s Prayer he would hold hands with us, and then our whole row of family would join hands to pray. Grandpa and Grandma passed down their Christian heritage. They prayed with me some of my first prayers: Bless Us, O Lord and Angel of God.
Kelly and I took cozy naps in Grandpa and Grandma’s bed, and sometimes snuck in just to snuggle with them. Grandma’s hands were soft when she gave us baths and powder. Grandpa’s hands were big and rough, but also very loving. I remember the first time I held hands with Shane, I thought, “His hands are strong and rough like Grandpa’s.”
My appreciation for music came from my mom, and also Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa sang it to me since I was a baby: “K-k-k-Kati, beautiful Kati... she’s the one and only one that I adore…” Grandpa sang and Grandma played piano and taught me how to play my first tune: Hot-Crossed Buns. A springboard for the piano lessons and percussion days and choirs. They came to so many concerts, recitals, games, events, and horse shows. Grandma writes letters and cards for every holiday and calls for birthdays and April Fools and never forgets, and she sends coupons and comics to make us chuckle.
I don’t know how she writes all those letters and keeps all those diaries, but I have also turned into something of a writer and can’t seem to put down the pen. My first “diary” was kept in an Alf notepad when we stayed with Grandpa and Grandma for a week. She had us write down everything we did, and I still have that little notepad with the very big handwriting. It took a long time to write those sentences each night, but I was so proud of it. What an inspiration.
Grandpa Bob and Grandma Pokey have done so many things to make me feel special and important, just by pouring out love and being themselves. I love them so much and treasure the moments – and the heritage – they have given me. I am extremely thankful that my husband and son are getting to know them, too. When I sit down and list all these memories, I am overwhelmed. I realize, they were such a big part of my childhood, such a huge influence on my life, and simply this: I have the best grandparents in the world!