Several years ago, I bought my parents an interesting Christmas gift. It was a custom leather-bound, hand-stamped, parchment paper journal. Inside, I'd written up a few memories from my childhood. The gift came with a promise that I would write something every Christmas until the book was full. This year, for reasons I still can't full explain, I didn't write anything. I later promised my folks I would write something and give it to them when I saw them again. This week, they are in town and the journal sits upstairs in my office. Mom and Dad are scheduled to leave in a couple days and I want to send the journal with them. Recently, I've had a lot of trouble expressing myself. The only place I think I am even coming close is on this blog. So, here's what I plan to copy into the journal before they leave.
It's a little sad, I guess, that I don't have many clear memories of my great grandparents. If I ever met any of my paternal great grandparents, I don't remember it. I know my mother's grandpa was named Doyle. I know I've heard stories about him eating a dozen eggs for breakfast and I can picture his photograph in my head. I know my mom's grandma was named Roxie, but I don't know much about her either. In fact, my clearest memory of her life is the morning my crying little brother woke me up and told me Grandma Roxie had died. Other than that, my memory bank is empty.
I feel fortunate, however, that my memories of my own grandparents are many. I feel fortunate that the best memories pre-date my grandparents' old age. I remember Grandpa P. drinking Busch beer on the old slab patio behind his house and laughing pure joy from his soul. I remember Grandma P. peeling oranges for me late at night as we both nursed our night owl spirits. I remember Grandpa W. explaining to me how "Christ" and "mas" went to together to make "Christmas." And, though I have many memories of my Grandma W., the one that stands out the most is the moment she looked at my pregnant wife and talked about how beautiful my baby would be. Grandma W. died a few days later.
And then there are the memories of my own parents, too many to count, and impossible to list in any order of importance. Just a quick moment of reflection conjures up my mom making me an ice cream float in the middle of a summer day with a bottle of Pepsi and a scoop of cheap vanilla. Then, I see her laboring over a drawing of Santa Claus so it would be just perfect. And then there is Dad. If I opened the file cabinet in my head that contains the thousands of memories about him, the first folder, I think, would have my dad calling plays in the field behind Hilldale Elementary, the all-time quarterback for a neighborhood of would-be Jerry Rices. The next folder would have a picture of my dad and me walking into Atlantic City's Bally's Casino and playing 7-card stud in a poorly-lit poker room. We both lost money that night, but we stayed up until nearly sunrise and only left when we agreed our wives would be wondering where we were.
So, why now do I think back on these things that happened so many years ago? Well, this year, I took my son home for Christmas. I took him to Grandma and Grandpa P.'s house and watched as their faces spread in what could only be called joy. I watched them hug him, laugh at him, and hold him like he was their first grandson. Later, I introduced my son to Grandpa W. Since Grandma W. died, Grandpa has been struggling to figure out how to live a new life. Still, I saw the same joy in his eyes, again, like he was meeting his first grandson.
More than anything, though, I saw the pride in my parents' eyes as we together showed off my son. L'il Otis is, in fact, their first grandson and there is no doubt they are proud. Their pride spawns more pride in me.
As technology gets better, I think memories are easier to keep. We have e-mail, computers, digital cameras, and digital video cameras. Making memories for my son will be eaiser. Even more so, it will be eaisier for him to remember.
All of that said, however, I learned this Christmas that my parents gave me a great gift when I was a kid. They let me know, love, and respect my grandparents. They gave me a great appreciation for the generations that make up this family. A few decades ago, it would probably have been hard to imagine this year. It would've been hard to believe I'd be circulating my kid through the family and introducing him to the people that directly and indirectly influenced who he will become.
Indeed, my parents succeeded in many ways over the past 32 years. It's only now that I realize one of their greater successes was teaching me how to teach my kid. They taught me to teach my kid to seek and love his grandparents.
And so now, when my kid--who still only knows a few words--points to the phone and asks to speak to "Nanny and Papa," I never say no.