His name is Claire, but he goes by many other names: Shorty, “Bop,” and Dad. To me, he’s Grandpa.
Her name is Natalie, and I can’t think of a person I’d rather share my name with. Seven adult children call her mom, her friends (read: gossip buddies) call her Nat. To me, she has always been Grandma.
If you have been lucky enough to have a relationship with your grandparents, you know what they add to your life. Mine provided ample ice cream and chocolate syrup, my own personal cheering section at every soccer game, and more patience than I probably deserved.
They gave me a few other things, too.
First and foremost, my grandparents taught me the value in a good sense of humor. The only downside to life is that there will be tough moments, and no amount of planning or luck can impede them forever. In every family, there will be health scares, surgeries, and late night trips to the ER.
My grandparents showed me that in even the most unpleasant situations — like sitting under fluorescent lights in an emergency room at three in the morning, for example — having a sense of humor about it all can dissolve tension and fear in an instant.
I especially love the warmth in my grandpa’s eyes when he smiles. I also love how my grandma’s laugh can carry through all floors of a house. Both of them have an incredible sense of humor that they passed down to all their children, and I like to think it was passed on to the grandchildren, too.
Every time I sit down at their kitchen table, they show me the importance of storytelling. We live in a fast-paced age when nearly every moment is photographed, documented, and stored away on our Facebook timelines, waiting to be dug up later. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but I see the value in a good old-fashioned story told straight from memory.
My grandparents’ stories are always hilarious from start to finish, but I get the feeling that everything is a bit embellished — as the years go by, a mildly chilly day becomes “horribly cold” and some bad food becomes “the worst food grandpa has ever tasted.” That’s part of the fun of storytelling, and I hope that doesn’t get lost now that our lives are more documented than ever. I hope someday my grandkids will be interested to hear some of my tall tales — even if they know some of it is a little far-fetched — without scrolling through my ancient Facebook page to fact-check me.
As cliche as it may sound, my grandparents also showed me how to appreciate the little things.
My earliest memory with my grandpa is picking raspberries in the garden. We would get down on our knees in the dirt and pluck them off the bush one by one, dropping them into an empty ice cream bucket. It would take hours to fill the bucket up to the top, but we managed to do it every time. Those summer days under the hot sun with him were some of the most blissful days of my childhood, and to think all it took was a bucket and a few raspberry bushes. To this day, raspberries are my favorite fruit because they remind me of him.
My first memory with my grandma is taking walks out on their land, 110 acres that are the epitome of rural Wisconsin. She would point out all the birds and flowers, more enamored by each new discovery than the last. I was never too excited about the wildlife, personally, but her elation was so infectious that I would look forward to those walks every day when I was at their house. I was excited for the day I would find my own simple things to find joy in, and I have. I find mine in the bright lights of a new city, in the pages of a good book, and in a hot cup of gourmet coffee. As I get older, my favorite little things will evolve, but I hope my excitement for them never fades.
Despite the fact that I’m more of a city girl who feels lost without concrete and bright lights, they both in their own way taught me the value of slowing down and sometimes literally smelling the roses.
They both also taught me how to show love with a simple gesture. One day, I broke my favorite purple crayon and immediately burst into tears. Grandpa worked on it for at least ten minutes until it was “good as new.” He superglued the pieces together so it lasted for as long as it was still my favorite crayon (probably only a few days, in all honesty).
Grandma showed love by being patient with me as I created “board games” for us to play (actually, they were just crayon drawings on computer paper), continually changing the rules in my favor. I was a cheater and she knew it, but she never turned down a game.
I am so lucky to have both of them in my life, not only because of the unlimited ice cream and chocolate syrup, but because they have helped shape my character for the better. I’m a better me because of them, and hopefully I’ll also be a wonderful grandma someday.