The Things They Didn’t Carry: Grandparent Jubilación
The quiet in the house after the grandchildren leave always puts a little lump in my throat and a little ache in my heart.
Hours before, the place inhaled kid energy: shouts, laughter, tears, band-aids, chocolate milk, hot dogs, songs, knock-knock jokes, t-ball, Power Wheels, frisbee, hula hoops, and books.
We sent them off with some gifts: two lamb stories and a magnifying glass from Iona, some 1990-era McDonalds transformers and My Little Ponies from the collection in the basement. And hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.
These are things they left behind:
None of these items is precious in its own right.
But each carries an aroma, a residue of love left behind by a child.
And each sits there, quietly, waiting for the chance to give itself again when the car door slams and slightly longer legs come running down the sidewalk and slightly longer arms reach out for hugs.
Do you remember special objects in your grandparents’ home? If you are a grandparent, do you have objects that carry the uniqueness of your place to your grandchildren?
Boy, can I identify with this! We are halfway through a wonderful vacation week with our granddaughter in Virginia. She’s coming to our house in Ohio next! Yay. But what I really look forward to is when we have our retirement home in Virginia and she’s a regular.
I knew only my grandparents on my mother’s side, when I was young. But such vivid memories of visiting them in Oklahoma. Though I was growing up in Florida, we always had a sea breeze, and I was never so hot! I got sunstroke once there. I remember my grandfather’s aromatic pipe smoke and his enchanting poultry yard. A Barred Rock hen drinking from a dented tin pan; a small flock of mallards; red crowing roosters. They had a burn barrel out there! And my grandmother’s kitchen had such interesting smells: the good food she was cooking but also fermenting scraps—saved for the chickens, of course, like my daughter does now.
I love the vivid details you recall from your visits to your grandparents, Richard. We had burn barrels on the farm too. And my grandparents had “banty” roosters that I had nearly forgotten until you wrote this comment.
I love it that your daughter keeps chickens. The farming genes continue! I also hope we can finally meet in person as you head for your own Jubilación in Virginia.
Visiting my grandparents on Broadway in Beaver Dam, KY. I loved the days spent with my grandparents in town. We lived out in the country. I can recall my first visit to this place. Grandmother had bleeding hearts and tulips blooming along a picket fence. I can remember the smell of freshly-brewed tea from the tea leaves for iced-tea. They had boxes of cereal with toys inside. We had oatmeal in the country. They had sliced bread. We had biscuits and cornbread. Granddaddy was always sitting in his big rocking chair and working crossword puzzles after work. Bottles of milk were delivered to the door as well as groceries most of the time. Newspaper was delivered by “Barney” on a motor scooter. Grandmother received McCall’s Magazine in the mail. I cut out the paper doll and clothes. Grandmother collected small teacups and saucers and I always played with them. I have them in my house. They had books and I remember reading, Heidi, there. My grandmother died when I was 11 years old. I cherish the memories!
I have a basket of puzzles, coloring books and crayons, and books that my grandchildren always played with when visiting. Now, my two great granddaughters are playing with things in the basket.
Judith, we obviously grew up with some similar circumstances. My paternal grandparents moved into town when we bought their farm. So I got to see how their lives changed. I never stayed overnight, however, since we lived only 2-3 miles apart.
You have two great-granddaughters. How wonderful! So now you probably have items that three generations played with. Maybe even four?
You have a wonderful memory for detail. I hope you have a memory book of some kind. I also hope that you find these posts a helpful stimulus to that good memory. Thanks for sharing with us. Betsy McCall! How I loved her.
Thanks Shirley. You are such an inspiration! Enjoying these posts.
Lovely post filled with love, Shirley.
My grandparents did not have homes that I remember. Both of my grandmothers died when I was very young. I have very fond memories of both of my grandfathers, but mainly when they were visiting us. I think both of my daughters though, have very happy memories of visiting both of their grandmothers. My mother-in-law had some special toys that they played with only at her house. At my mom’s apartment, they painted and she made them grilled cheese sandwiches in her toaster oven. (My younger daughter has mentioned how she loved those sandwiches.)
Merril, children seem to love ritual. I noticed this when my daughter was small. She fetishized a little red silk box that must have held a piece of jewelry at one time but contained a silver thimble and later a pendant also. She would ask for it whenever we stayed at Grandma Hershey’s house. Now it sits in the closet in case she ever has children who come visit me. I wonder if the story will make a new child fall in love with the parent’s love object or make him or her want to choose a new one.
It’s sad that you have no place memories or physical memories of your grandmothers. Owen pinched my flabby upper arms and grinned when I told him that grandmas need arms like that to give softer hugs.
And food memories, like the smell of tea in Judith’s comment and cloves in Laurie’s, introduce the sense memory is linked to most vividly. I’m glad your daughter became aware of her fondness for the grilled cheese sandwiches. She was tasting love in a place associated with love. No wonder the taste remains in memory.
Shirley — I love the photos that you shared, especially the one of you, Stuart, Julia, and Owen. Clearly a great time is being had by all!
I was close with my maternal grandparents. My grandpa was blind and a double amputee (both legs from the knees, down) so visits were always fascinating! There was a little jelly jar in the kitchen cupboard that was home to whole cloves — I loved that little jar. To this day the smell of cloves takes me back instantly. There was also a potato peeler I was told not to touch. Naturally I more than touched it, got cut, and have a scar to this day. I treasure the memories it invokes. And though my grandpa’s aluminum legs were quite interesting, they didn’t hold a candle to the “stumps” where his own legs ended. I most certainly have cherished memories that never fail to make my heart smile.
Laurie,I laughed out loud about the potato peeler. You always were/are up for a challenge. Love that. Glad you survived with only a small scar.
And a grandfather with stumps. What more could a kid ask for? Of course, you probably came to appreciate the suffering that went along with those disabilities later on. What an opportunity to learn empathy and appreciation for diversity. I’m sure your big heart has some roots in this place.
I will think of you next time I open a little jar of cloves.
Shirley, this is a beautiful post… vivid in detail and brimming with love. So moving…
I look forward to the time when God may bless us with grandchildren.
I too hope you will be so blessed some day. If I recall correctly, Saloma, you have a special child who comes to visit you. That’s a wonderful experience also. I’ll bet she asks for some of your famous sweet rolls. 🙂
Since we lived so far away from our parents, our children formed attachments to neighbors and friends old enough to be grandparents. Much appreciated!
Thank you for the kind words about the writing. Children make great muses!
Shirley, I know that huge emptiness and quiet and what a mixed blessing it feels. Very different with local grands now. Like Hershey Kisses instead of a giant bar.
Those toys with the residue of love — keep the pictures. Those kids may start writing someday!
I’ve noticed how many of my friends get crazy with planning Things To Do with their grandchildren. When I was young I spent a week each summer with grandparents, usually two weeks total since I had two sets, each living about four hours away. I don’t recall ever doing anything special except going fishing once or twice on a Sunday when my Clovis grandparents’ photography studio was closed. I just went and hung around. We might do some sewing. I read lots of books. I poked around in the yard. I learned to do lots of small tasks in the studio, including tinting pictures. I just liked being away from home and spending time with them.
Sometimes giving kids space to just “be” in today’s overscheduled world is a major treat. This may not be the case with all grandkids, but most of the ones I know DO stuff all the time.
“Like Hershey kisses instead of a chocolate bar.” I love the comparison, Sharon. It must be sweet to have those kisses whenever you want them. So glad for you that you can. (And hope your house is on high ground during the Austin floods!)
Your word about doing versus being together is a good one. We did a lot of both. One thing that’s different is that our work is sitting at a computer, not doing cool things like making pictures. Farms are such great places for kid visits. We have plenty close by and visited one goat pen and one strawberry patch.
Hope you get to enjoy your kisses soon. Glad they are HERSHEY kisses. 🙂
We just returned from a road trip to Ontario where we have four grandchildren (our second daughter lives there). We had lots of fun with them, playing “aggravation” (a game I grew up with) telling stories, drawing pictures, going for walks, etc. Whatever we did was greeted with much enthusiasm and love and laughter.
I told my grandchildren that I only had one grandmother and no grandfathers (the tragedy of war). That grandmother lived in a little blue house with a huge garden and my sister and I would go there for night. She lived out in the country on her brother’s farm and we had a WONDERFUL time!
I’m glad you told your grandchildren about your own grandmother and about the tragedy of war. They must love the stories and appreciate your visit all the more, Elfrieda.
How do you play aggravation? Maybe you can do a blog post about that game.
The key to a good visit and a good relationship is in this sentence: “Whatever we did was greeted with much enthusiasm and love and laughter.” I’m sure the same was true for you.
Glad you had a good trip!
What a great idea, Shirley. A blog post about the game “aggravation”! I think I’ll take you up on that once things are back to normal around here.
Such a lovely and loving post, Shirley. I can relate! When I step on a toy truck or plastic Ninja warrior left behind by the grandsons, I have to smile. All that boy energy seems to permeate the air and remain long after they leave. Your words also connect me to my own childhood memories of spending summers with my maternal grandparents. What a precious gift! Julia and Owen are beautiful.
Kathy, I enjoy seeing your grandchildren on Facebook from time to time, and I can tell you adore each other. Yes, the toys left behind still carry the boy energy (and girl energy in our case). You got to spend whole summers with grandparents. What an indelible impression that must have made!
Sweet post! Owen likes experimenting and Julia likes color. They both are growing like weeds, maybe one reason for a Dora bandaid.
Grandma Longenecker’s house had many nooks and crannies and a large attic where we tried on Grandma’s otter hat and her fancy coat. We rode a gray Victorian rocking horse with a cool wooly mane. Best of all, we explored the woods beyond her garden and made up cool names for the spoon of sod on a bluff and the Revolutionary War cemetery.
I love your flabby upper arm comeback – ha! As I read the comments I realize once again how strongly smell and taste is intertwined with memory.
Your adventures at Grandma Longenecker’s house have been the seeds of many excellent blog posts, Marian, so I think I can see that hat and coat. I’m not sure I understand the spoon of sod comment, however. And I don’t remember hearing about the Revolutionary War cemetery. Did you write about it?
I always enjoy seeing your talented, inquisitive grandchildren on Facebook. All the work of writing memoir pays us back by teaching us the importance of the senses, of play, and of stories. We are better educated in the roles of our later years.
The mysteries of the woods are in my memoir drafts. You’ll have to wait . . !
I love the photos of you and Stuart with your rapidly growing grandchildren and your reason for grandma’s soft upper arms.
I have no grandchildren yet, but I’ve been ‘practicing,’ by going twice a week to be with a little boy “Elijah” while his mother works part time. I met his mom at church, and she asked me about this arrangement while she was pregnant. I had been teaching Sunday School, but no other child care at the time.
I have enjoyed being with Elijah as he grows (from 3 months to the present). Yesterday he put his shoes on by himself. I make sure to play outside with him every day I am with him, and I cherish his connection to leaves, puddles, acorns, sand.
This is my last month to do Elijah care, as his mom will stay home to be with the children when her second baby arrives.
His mom has been dedicated to Elijah’s sleep routines, which, in turn, allows the parents good sleep. I have learned so much from this dedication, and I see how healthy it is for everyone.
Dolores, I too have seen the benefit of good sleep routines, which both Owen and Julia have benefited from since their births. It seems that parents have access to more knowledge now than we did long ago.
I love the idea of “practicing” grandparenting. Children need as many loving adult guardians and friends as possible. I am sure Elijah and you will always have a special relationship to each other. Hope you continue to find ways to use your gifts of nurturing and sharing your love of nature with children.
Yes, access to knowledge seems to be more available.
I thought of a question for you: what is the reason for Grandma’s ‘saggy chin?
To match her turkey neck, of course!
The energy of children they inspire us with joy in all that is around them, in the discovery of the simple miracles around us. I don’t have grandchildren but enjoy my youngest nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews for their life-filled spirits.
I don’t recall any single object from my paternal grandparents (we were closest in loving connection to them). What I most remember are special trips with them, especially my Nana. My family lived in the northeastern area of Illinois which was an open country setting at the time. My grandparents lived in Chicago. So I remember adventures with Nana; taking the bus for the first time. We went several times to a department store which had a park type environment outside with a small bridge over a waterfall. My grandparents took me on another occasion up to Stevens Point, Wisconsin to a farm owned by friends of theirs which led to an experience which broke open my hunger for equality and justice. The later story will likely be part of my future memoir. And, the family experiences on Thanksgiving at their small apartment crowded around their table with Nana’s best linen tablecloth, china, and real silverware. All these experiences were treasured times primarily because of the love and full embrace of our grandparents.
Ooh, Audrey, the idea of special trips really appeals to me. We have only been with Owen and Julia alone for a few days when we went to their house. Next step is alone at our house. Then in a few years — trips. Fantastic opportunity for memory building.
That story about how grandparents took you to a place that “broke open” your hunger for equality and justice is a story I want to read!
Thanks for pointing out that other children in the family need and want the attention of their other relatives. Not just grandchildren. Aunties and uncles serve an important role also!
I feel the “full embrace” of your grandparents yet in the words you write.
Wonderful post and, oh my, can I relate. The house is never so quiet as it is when a grandchild leaves. I have a little plastic animal on my kitchen counter right now–a remnant from the last visit that I just found under the sofa. I’m leaving it there for a few days, remembering.
Linda, exactly! The little things left behind deserve their moment of recognition. Thanks for understanding and for joining the conversation. Have you checked under the sofa cushions yet for more? 🙂
I may be one of the few grannies that has a basketball court! There has been colored chalk artwork all over it, bikes ridden on it, scooters scooted on it, 4 square played on it, roller blades skating on it, rocks collected and sorted on it, flowers laid upon it, plays performed on it and sometimes we even played basketball!!!! My favorite thing at MY grandparents’ house was a gallon plastic jug filled to the brim with marbles of all sizes and colors. We never played marbles but I just loved looking at all of them. And of course as soon as we were in the door, we went to the middle drawer beside the sink for the ever present box of assorted cookies!
Lucky you, Roxanne, and even luckier grandkids. I love your description of the many functions of your basketball court. I can tell that imagination runs strong in your family.
And your own memories show how much empowerment a second home can offer to a child. You knew where the cookies were and you could go to them immediately. Why? Because you were in the safest place on earth. Such vivid memories.
My grandparent situation was different. One grandmother lived with us every summer and with her other daughter during the winter, so when we visited her, we were visiting our aunt, uncle and cousins. My other grandmother lived with one of her sons and his family. So in both cases, as children, we were more focused on visiting our cousins. A bit of a sad commentary.
We cherish our granddaughters as you cherish your grandchildren. When they come to visit, the special items we offer are wide open spaces, the prairie, a creek, the garden – all of which they are free to explore on their own or with us in tow. I expect they will remember Grandpa’s shed with its bucket of walnuts he cracks for them on request and the jars of candy and nuts he lets them sample. I the house, the craft boxes that fuel their artistic endeavors are a treasure, as are all the utensils for making cookies (which we do every time they visit.) A fun post, Shirley.
Carol, that old way of having the elders live in with their children has mostly disappeared now, I think. It had both advantages and disadvantages for all parties.
Those walnuts and cookies must be special love objects. You add another dimension of grandparent giving: offering spaces, instruction, and experiences not found elsewhere.
By the way, Owen helped me make some paper napkin lotus flowers. We took them to Aunt Sadie’s house filled with chocolates from the Amsterdam airport. Thanks for showing me the craft. I took a refresher course on youtube, and all turned out well. 🙂
I do have very fond memories of a Raggedy Anne doll I use to play with as a child. I have tried to find on to purchase however,with no luck. I did see one recently that has a very nice home.
My other beloved stuffed animal was as stuffed koala bear that my Dad had brought back from Australia. He was in Australia when he was in the Royal Canadian Navy. The original was well loved. So much so it’should fur rubbed off. I now have another koala stuffed bear in my collection. Although it is not the original it is still a treasure. It sits on my dresser. Gratefully, it’seems fur is still intact, an so is its straw stuffing.
Oh, yes I have two homemade bears from my birthmother on my dresser as well. On is my ‘Velveteen bear’. I truly enjoy these handmade treasures. And the memories they have invoked.
Ha, June, your mention of Raggedy Ann brings to mind another treasure at our house. Julia spied a rag doll she immediately named “Muffie” and took her along to bed at night.
Your precious bears have carried you through childhood and now remind you of your parents and all the love you yourself have bestowed on them over the years.
You mention the “Velveteen” word. The Velveteen Rabbit has taught many, maybe millions, that an inanimate object can evoke very animate feelings! Glad you have those bears!
Wonderful post that nudged alive so many memories, Shirley.
My grandparents were Missouri farmers and didn’t travel far from home. But each time we saw them, they had a little drawstring bag, one for me and one for my brother, filled with “special things we thought you might like.” The year I had chickenpox followed by mumps (talk about miserable), they mailed me a box. Inside was my drawstring bag filled with wonderful, thoughtful little gifts just for me: a special little rose pin that I put on my pajama top and refused to remove; a tiny red notebook with a pen from their local bank; a tube of chapstick; and a little sack of snickerdoodle cookies made with extra cinnamon and sugar, just how I loved them. My grandfather had written a poem just for me 😉 : “Roses are red, the sky is blue, you have itchy pox and mump bumps, which makes us really love you!”
Marylin, I am amazed at your memory of details from those drawstring bags, especially your grandfather’s poem. Wow. Children can feel love in objects even when the giver is not present in the room. This happens at the deepest levels, however, when the giver has been VERY present in the giving of previous presents from that bag.
Don’t you love how the two meanings of present connect with each other? I know you do. 🙂
Wonderful, Shirley. I don’t have grandchildren, so try not to expect anything. But I’m saving a few favorite books, games, and toys. Vic would have been a creative, fun grandpa just as he was a creative and doting dad. I’m sorry he didn’t get the chance. I just brought the stuffed animal I designed (it’s sweetly silly as I was at the time), stuffed, and stitched during my first pregnancy to my oldest son in North Carolina. I was afraid to wash it because it looked so fragile, but my son washed and brushed it. It’s 45 years old and we’re both happy he has it.
I have a few books from my childhood, a large antique framed 1896 portrait of my adorable six-year-old great aunt who was killed in a cyclone soon after the portrait was made. On the maternal side, I have photos that go back six generations from my Danish ancestors who left their homes to escape the Prussian army. The toys I cherished at my grandparent’s homes are gone, which may be why I have legos and games in the top of my closet–just in case.
Shirley, I am so confused. I loved the intro picture of you with your three Leo birthday people, but I couldn’t get to any place to comment. So I’ll comment here. Both my husband Jim and our grandson Gannon are Leos, too, so we understand the special celebration!
Sorry you couldn’t find a place to comment, Marylin. There is a live link to last year’s post on our beach experience at the end of the Magical Memoir Moment email. I’m re-purposing some of the 600 posts I’ve already written this summer and doing fewer new posts.
Glad you have some Leo celebrations in your family too. Roar!
I’m sorry to add yet a third comment on this same post, Shirley, but I’m having an impossible time getting through to your site to leave a comment anywhere else.
The picture of you holding your baby daughter 31 years ago is a Modern Madonna, and a tender memory nudge for all mothers (now grandmothers) to recall the delicious feel, smell, hearth throb of holding a beloved baby.
No problem, Marylin. One of these days I will start posting new blogs instead of sending people to older ones. 🙂
Thank you for your kind words about the Magical Memoir Moment photo I sent yesterday in honor of our daughter Kate. It did bring back powerful memories. And then I got to watch Chelsea and Hillary exchange hugs on the national stage on Kate’s birthday. Brought tears to my eyes.