On August 3, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation declaring the first Sunday after Labor Day to be National Grandparents’ Day, a day “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”
When I was growing up, I only really knew one grandparent. My mom’s father died when she was a teenager. Both my dad’s father and my mom’s mother passed away before I was ten. My grandfather was a distant, shadowy figure whose interaction with us was limited and awkward, so when he died I don’t think I even thought to miss him. Nana, my mom’s mother, lived with us off and on, so my memories of her are misty, like a powdery whiff of White Shoulders or the soft tinkle of Fur Elise on the piano.
My dad’s mother lived a block away in a stately white house on Sunset Avenue. Grandma was a diminutive woman, with a crooked wig and a big purse. She was ornery and stubborn and held life-long grudges. There were always Archway cookies in the cupboard, little bottles of Coke in her icebox, and bacon frying in the kitchen. The toy box in the hall closet held antique WWI army men and metal trucks. She cursed the cats who ran away her beloved birds, and paid us a nickel to pick up the rotten apples that littered her back yard. My cousins and I would spend endless summer hours at her house, either in the basement playing school or hide and seek in her jumble of antiques, or sipping Kool-aide while cooling off on the green and pink clad furniture that graced her screened-in side porch. I still miss seeing her careen down the street in her mammoth car, glimpsing just a streak of gray peeking out over the steering wheel. That was my grandma, flinty with bits of racist comments thrown in for added flavor. She wasn’t cuddly. She wasn’t cozy. She was Ruth, and I loved her in spite of and because of all her quirks.
Our own children have many grandparents, each with his or her own bag of mixed up characteristics. None are the mythical versions. Some are crotchety. Others amiable. A few are missed in their grandchildren’s deepest dreams. Most, though, have had deep pockets full of hugs and stories and unconditional love.
My husband and I became grandparents almost five years ago when a little curly headed girl instantaneously stole our hearts, and then a smily boy miraculously grabbed us once again over a year ago. We color Hello Kitty and dance to rock ’n roll and go on adventures. We listen to every story. We watch with sparkling amusement as they run around our home. We are mesmerized with each exquisite moment. I am CeCe and he is Popi, and our lives are immanently more joyful because of Lottie and Sam, and for that we are forever grateful.
And so, on this first Sunday after Labor Day, I acknowledge all grandparents: ones by blood, ones by luck, and others by honorary declaration. You are a gift, a presence, a precious memory for all the children in your lives.
Happy Grandparents’ Day.