LOOKING ACROSS TIME

An appreciation of our extended family and how they support our son

I never met my grandfathers – both had passed by the time I was born. I was lucky to get to know my grandmothers, though. One was a feisty New Englander with a French Canadian ancestry. She made a killer peach cobbler and would berate my sisters and me in rapid French.

When we moved back to southern California, my father didn’t tell his mother, he just brought us to her house one afternoon. She expressed her frustration with him by biting him on the arm.

My other grandmother lived to age 90. I am so grateful that I got to know her as an adult. She was a single child of parents who had a stormy marriage, divorcing and then marrying each other again.

She said she had a lonely childhood. When she met my grandfather, one of 11 children, she reveled in all the family that came with him. She and my grandfather then had a large family themselves, and she was the mother of eight children, six of whom lived to adulthood. 

When I was a child she had weekly penny poker games at her house with friends. She played cribbage, and I remember her sitting on the floor with me in her 80’s, showing me how it was done on the cribbage board. 

Macular degeneration took away her ability to read, and she was frustrated by that. She didn’t like books on tape because if she didn’t understand something, it was hard to rewind and listen to it again. 

When she said she wanted to know “what this Harry Potter thing” was all about, I read to her over the phone, a chapter a week. I can still hear her laugh in my memory as she enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s sense of humor. We got part of the way through “The Prisoner of Azkaban” before she passed.

On the day of her services, the church was filled to overflowing, not only with family. There were candles on the altar, one for each of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. It was like a sun, there were so many flames.

I remember friends of my uncles saying how her open home and open heart were so important. I overheard one talking about how her acceptance of him “saved his life” during difficult times as a young man.

I think she would have loved the Navigator. She would have accepted him exactly as he was, no questions asked, no judgments, no suggestions or advice for doing things differently.

She would have known how to push when he needed pushing, and would have relaxed when he needed a break. I think the two of them would have chuckled over puns together.

It makes me sad that I cannot share with my son these relationships that I so loved; but it makes me very happy that he has had a relationship with all of his own grandparents.

They are each very different people and each have so much to offer him: life experiences, perspectives, and reflections of who he is and where he came from.

I see in the Navigator pieces of all of the people I love, and I hope he learns to see them in himself, too.