The People Who Love Us
I’m alone this week because Steve went back to Atlanta for a family event. It’s a quick trip for him and we didn’t want to put Millie through it, so I stayed home with her. It’s been a dreary weather week with plenty of rain, fog, hail, thunder and lightening, and the odd bit of sunshine. Mostly rain. So I’ve been housebound most of the week. I’ve gotten a lot of spring cleaning done in anticipation of Steve coming home. Followed immediately by our dear friends Tim and Julie. So I have a lot to look forward to.
But for some reason I’ve been looking backward. Maybe the rain has caused me to be introspective. What would have been my father’s 101st birthday was this week and of course there’s Mother’s Day. So here I am alone with plenty of time to think about these two people who made me and shaped me.
I think about them every single day. So this is nothing new, but their spirits are really stirring things up for me this week. Sometimes I think we know our parents the least of anyone else. They’re our parents. We know what they tell us. They don’t always share things with us about themselves. We see glimpses of the people they are, the youth they were, but we really don’t know them as people. We know them as parents, and that’s different. Certainly that was true of my parents’ generation. The Greatest Generation. The stoics. The ones who lived through a depression like no other and a world war. Then incredible prosperity.
Parents are different now. They never say “Because I said so”. They ask their children their opinion on things like wardrobe choices. They don’t think that children should be seen and not heard – a point that’s clearly made if you’ve ever been in a restaurant with children. I’m not saying these things are bad – just different. But for all we know about parenting and self-esteem and the like now, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself “What would Edna do?”
When my grandchildren morphed into frightening monsters, my first reaction was to panic. What the hell do I do now? Then I would ask myself “What would Edna do?” And somewhere between panic and Edna was the right answer, always closer to Edna than panic. Sometimes it was her voice guiding me. Reminding me that children are sometimes selfish little devils who need to learn how to act in the world. And it’s your job to teach them. If you don’t, then they’ll grow into selfish big devils. Most of the time I did what she would have done. Ignore the outburst and don’t give it any legs to stand on. It’s hard to do that. And my mother had five children. Two of them twins. Can you imagine the outbursts she dealt with?
My step-daughter-in-law, Meredith, is one of the best moms I know. She and my step-son, Matt, raised their two boys with a combination of toeing the line and compassion. And they have two great young men as a result. The oldest is a watchmaker and lives in Connecticut. The youngest is in college in Georgia. So they don’t get to see their firstborn very often. The family event Steve went back for was our granddaughter’s first communion (the daughter of Steve’s other son, Clay). After the ceremony was over they were all standing in the parking lot making plans for later. Then out of the shadows appeared the watchmaker from Connecticut who came down to surprise Meredith for Mother’s Day. And it just so happened his grandfather was there, as well. This was all a great surprise to the mom and the grandfather, And made the step-grandmother (me) weep with joy when she heard the story.
I can take no credit for these children. I’m not biologically involved in any way. I married Steve after his two sons were almost grown. They had a wonderful mother who shared parenting responsibilities with Steve so there was no need for me to get involved. So I feel very, very fortunate that when the first pregnancy occurred, I was part of the family. I was there when all the children were born, hugging all the biologicals like I was one of them. So when I was all of a sudden a “gran”, I was thrilled. And Matt and Meredith treated me like I was indeed a grandmother. I kept those children as often as I could. They spent countless weekends with us going to Fernbank, the Botanical Garden (or, Mechanical Garden, as their young brains called it), and building flour volcanoes on our deck. We played hide and seek and built forts from the sofa cushions and did all kind of crazy things to our then dog, Harry (the most docile dog in the world). They had no idea I was not their real grandmother.
Children teach us a lot about love and acceptance. They don’t care if you’re on the family tree or not. They relate to you on an uncomplicated level that is stripped away of all formality. They are pure. They recognize love and genuineness and honesty. And they respect that.
So that brings me back to Edna. She, of course, knew I never had children of my own. Yet she loved my grandkids as if they were her own. She would give me advice when I asked and refrain when I didn’t. She knew I would work it out. Because she knew she had done her job.
And Grover, my father. He was a man of few words, yet he was observant of everything. He never met a child he didn’t love and he thought every child deserved all the love in the world. He was right, of course. Yet so many don’t get it.
Like everyone who has experienced it, I have very vivid memories of my parent’s last hours. My father suffered from Alzheimer’s in his last years. The day before he died, I went to see him. Hospice had been called and we knew the end was near. My sisters and I met and discussed arrangements and I paid one last visit to him. He was not responsive. Lying in bed, peaceful, eyes closed. I sat by his by bed and told him I was there and that I loved him. I had my hand on the edge of the bed and he clamped his hand onto mine like a vise. No movement in his eyes or any other part of his body. But he knew I was there and he knew he was leaving and he wanted to touch someone he loved. I held his hand for a while and he finally drifted to sleep. The next day he died.
My mother lived about 50 miles away from me when she died. I got a call late one night that she was not doing well. Steve and I immediately drove down. My sisters, much nearer to her than I, were already there. I raced into her room and told her I was there. My sisters had been holding her hands and telling her I was coming. I told her I was there and took her hand and she died. I like to think she waited on me to die, but it probably doesn’t work that way.
Parents. Some are good, some are not. But the ones I know, Edna, Grover, Matt, Meredith, Clay and countless others are the best. So during this week when Mother Nature made me look inside myself instead of outside in the wide world, as I celebrated my father’s 101st birthday and wished my mother a Happy Mother’s Day, I praise all those souls who have influenced a child. A child who is nothing but pure love and trust and who looks to us to teach it how to get along in the world. Thank you, all of you, for you have made the world a better place.