Walking home from school the minute I saw the white Crown Victoria parked in front of my parent’s house shrieks of delight would erupt from my throat. This meant that my grandparents had driven up from Florida. My grandparents were the type of people that kids dream about. They were always down to go to the playground, go camping, take us on a vacation, and most importantly there were always chocolate Entenmann’s donuts in the freezer.
I have the fondest memories of playing basketball, riding bikes, and playing cards with them. Today I play the card game 99 with my own children and summer campers. Driving in the car was always a game. We would name countries taking turns starting the next country’s name with the final letter of the previous country. Maybe we would try to find license plates from every state or would get tested on our multiplication facts. As you can tell I come from a family of educators.
I was 11 when my grandmother died of lung cancer through no action of her own. (meaning she never smoked) I tell you all this to set the stage for this weekend. My grandfather just turned 90. He currently resides in Florida so I hopped on a plane to celebrate with him. It was a surprise so he was really excited when I knocked on his door and gave him the biggest hug. We talked and hung out, listened to some old rock and big band music, and ate lunch. The conversation then turned to my grandmother. For some background information, my grandparents had met when they were 13 and lived in New York City. They were the only people they dated and got married when they were 21.
Zaida: (what I call him) Your grandmother loved being with you and your brother.
Me: Tell me the story again about how she rationed her kisses with you. (My favorite story of all time)
Zaida: We both didn’t know anything about sex. Your Nonna (what I call grandmother) and I were both young and Nonna thought you could get pregnant by kissing too much. We went to the store and bought a biology book and learned about sex that way.
Me: I remember how difficult it was when she got sick. I didn’t really understand what was going on and it was hard when she wasn’t able to play with us like she used to.
Zaida: Yes those were two hard long years.
Me: Was she scared of dying?
Zaida: She was so strong during the cancer treatments. She always thought she was going to beat it. She never cried or complained. We would rent a hotel room near the cancer treatments and watch Broadway shows on TV pretending that we were on vacation. One time after she received the news that the treatment wasn’t going as planned she stated she didn’t want to die. I told her we are all living creatures and will die eventually. That was the only time she ever said anything about it.
Later that evening I asked him what he thought about death. Did he think he was ever going to see my grandmother again? He replied:
“I am fatalistic about death. There is no use in thinking about it because we don’t know and when we get there we will understand what’s going on. I hope to see her again but I don’t know.”
We went on to talk about life after my grandma died, watched videos of his wedding, and old family videos. It was great seeing him come alive and telling me who these strange people were that I was related to.
These conversations are so important to have. I loved asking these questions and listening to his responses. I have read Tuesdays with Morrie and all the Chicken Soup books. I didn’t want to let an opportunity to pass where I can have authentic conversations with my grandfather. After all, he is 90 how many more of these will we be able to have!
This blog has no educational relevance. Hopefully, it will help you think about the relationships and conversations with your family and friends.