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My brother and I were chatting online the other day. We don’t do it as often as we would like because we are both pretty busy and since he lives in Ireland, telephone calls can get quite expensive.
I had sent him a picture of our grandmother who we both haven’t seen for a while, mostly due to distance, but also because of the coronavirus stuff. Our grandmother is in her nineties and lives in a senior living center and is suffering from advanced dementia. While physically good, she’s not so great mentally.
We commented on how good she looked in the picture and the conversation drifted to things we remembered at her house.
Before she made the move to the senior community, Grandmom lived in one of those ridiculously suburban houses in one of those ridiculously suburban neighborhoods. You know the kind — station wagons with the wood on the sides, cookouts in the backyards, that kind of thing.
Every holiday was spent at Grandmom’s house. Besides Christmas and Thanksgiving, everyone’s birthdays were celebrated. There was a big Easter to-do with the big meal and Easter candy and such. We were always in the dining room, eating off the good china and using the big silver utensils.
I never really thought about it much then because it seemed so normal, but there was so much work and effort put into it by Grandmom and she did it alone, and she did it for all of us. As the years went on, the effort became less and the events got scaled down. Eventually, it was just Thanksgiving and Christmas, and finally just Christmas with a small breakfast buffet.
There were things my brother and I talked about in no special order. My uncle, the youngest of Grandmom’s three sons, still lived mostly at home for a while and he had a great stereo in the basement. My brother and I would fight over who got to use it first. We’d sit in the basement with our uncle’s record collection and make compilation tapes on his cassette deck so we could listen to the music at home.
Our uncle had a great record collection and my brother and I were jealous of both the collection and the high-end stereo he let us use. I don’t think the stereo or the tapes were all that important, looking back on it. What was important was where we were at the time.
A big jar of chalky dinner mints was ever-present on the counter in her dining room. We would stick a finger in and dig one out whether we wanted one or not. When you went to Grandmom’s, you got a mint or six. My brother laughed when I mentioned the mints. As it turned out, neither of us particularly cared for them, but it was part of visiting that you took a couple of mints.
We talked about the stereo in the living room (not my uncle’s) that never seemed to get used. It sat on a cabinet below a bookshelf in the corner of the living room, beside the dark wood fireplace. The bookshelf was packed with old books and a selection of impossibly hard board games that came from a company my father did work for occasionally. Once in a while, my brother and I would try to play the games with little success. I’d like to thank the Avalon Hill game company for creating games my brother and I would have played if they were easier to understand.
I’m a grandparent now, and I hope my grandsons Remington and Jace think of me as I think of my grandparents. What my brother and I took for granted all those years ago is now held dear to us. A lot of us are grandparents. As the old joke goes, if I knew grandkids were going to be so fun, I would have had them first.
Each Christmas since this column was started, we have given Grandmom a printed copy of each of the columns from the previous year. As long as she is still with us, I am going to send her copies. She may not know who I am at the moment, but I know who she is.
When wondering if your grandchildren think of you, always be assured the answer is yes. Our grandkids may think we are old and boring and way out of touch. I know mine do. However, when they get older, they eventually realize how valuable you actually are and look at you as a treasure.
I don’t know how much longer we have with Grandmom. Her memory has certainly faded. Her heart has not.
Some weeks, this column is filled with humor. OK, sometimes it is filled with attempts at humor. Some weeks, it is filled with nostalgia.
This week, it is filled with love.
Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.