Fond grandparent memories

My MIL threw a party for DC2 when they visited this summer.  She rented a pony.  A PONY.   DC2 still talks about it– ze got to ride the horsie and feed it carrots and its mouth tickled hir hand.

My mother says she can’t compete with that and will stick to sending books (which are much appreciated!).  I can’t compete with that either.

But what are grandparents for, except spoiling kids?

I have fond memories of my grandmas (both grandfathers died long before I was born).  My one grandma had birds and would give me a banana every time I visited, which was often when we lived in the same state.   She eventually died of a stroke caused by a broken hip she got fighting off a purse snatcher in her mid-80s.  She was a tiny little woman who looks a lot like my sister.

My other grandma was considerably younger and thus more active.  In between stints with the Peace Corps, she made great chocolate chip walnut cookies and lived in fun places with barn cats or pools and lakes for swimming. (Until she moved to a boring little town in the midwest.  We still visited.)  She was the spoiling grandma– every time I went to her house there would be a new toy or dress for me.  When I was little and she lived in the same state she’d hide the new toy in a cupboard for me to look.  She gave me a much-desired Lemon Meringue Pie doll.  Once we went to the candy store (Fannie Mae!) and she let me buy one of every candy that they had (except the expensive pecan rolls).  My parents were upset with me for letting her do that, but what could be more magical than buying one of every candy in a store?  She didn’t seem to mind– she reminded my parents that she saw grandparent’s main job to spoil the grandkids, something my mother has repeated to me.

We lost her a few years ago after a decade-long struggle with Alzheimers, something my husband is dealing with with his remaining grandmother now.

But our memories remain.

What memories do you have of your grandparents?

18 Responses to “Fond grandparent memories”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Grandma was my paternal grandmother who did not like us very much. I remember she dipped snuff, told us the cake she baked was for our cousins and we could not have any. She spit in a can, and the brown dribble on her mouth was so gross, I would not go near to hug her, not that she ever wanted a hug after a few refusals to hug her. I have no fond memories of her. She did give me a marvelous little silver plate spoon that I cherish. Since then, I have learned it was part of a child’s place setting.

    Memaw, my maternal grandmother, was wonderful. She made clothes for us, gave us candy from her store, hugged me lots and talked to me. She lived in four rooms behind her little store that sold coal oil out front for people to use in lanterns. When we left her house to go back to Memphis or Jackson, MS, whichever place we lived, she would let us have ten pieces of penny candy. I chose all Tootsie Rolls because they lasted a long time and were chocolate. Mama fussed at her for this because of profit she was losing. Memaw sort of laughed and said it was okay. The little paper bags were only about 3″ tall.

    When I was three, my three-month-old sister and I stayed with her for three or four days while my parents took my two-year-old brother to drive up north to a funeral. One day, she gave me an ice cream (on a stick or a sandwich). I promptly ripped off the wrapper and threw it on the floor. She told me to pick it up and I refused over and over. Finally, she dragged me to the paper and put my hand around it and dragged me to the trash and held my hand over the trash. Even at three, I was embarrassed by my behavior and hoped she did not tell Mama. I absolutely never, ever defied her again. She did tell my mother. Mama just looked at me.

    I always got to sleep with her on the foldout sofa when my family stayed there and my parents slept in her bed. When it was just my baby sister and me, I slept in her bed with her and shared the wonderful pillow that stretched all the way across the bed. I was afraid a moth would bite me as I lay there and argued with her when she told me the moth would not hurt me, whining all the while. She told me, “don’t contradict my word.” That shut me up while I tried to figure out what she meant.

    She encouraged me to go to college and told me that her mother, my great-grandmother, went to college.

    When I was 14, she shared my room and terrified me with her scary actions because she had Alzheimer’s. I am all over that part of her end.

    However, she sometimes danced old-timey dances to our music and showed us she could still play Jacks. But, she did not have a rubber ball and jacks when she was a child.. She told us she used peach pits. She could toss up the rubber ball, scoop jacks and catch the ball on the way down and before it hit the floor.

    Both grandfathers had died. Mama’s father was murdered six months before she was born. My grandparents were all born in the 1880s and 1890s

    • Debbie M Says:

      You’re reminding me that Grandma E. had slobbery kisses (though not otherwise gross). One time she caught my brother wiping off the slobber. “Are you wiping off my kisses?” she asked. “No,” he answered, “I’m rubbing them in.” Genius!

  2. Steph Says:

    Books. Both my grandmothers were librarians, both loved to read to us and buy us books. My paternal grandmother took us to a used bookstore nearly every week in the summer, and still buys us books at Christmas and birthdays. She also bakes a ridiculous amount, which we have not stopped appreciating. She was also a preschool teacher so we did a lot of crafts at her house.

    My maternal grandmother bought us books when we got good grades, and took us to the zoo a lot.

    My maternal grandfather has diabetes that he managed poorly until recently, so he wasn’t allowed to pick us up from school (the other 3 were frequent drivers). I know very little about him, he doesn’t talk a lot about himself, even when asked. He’s stubborn, we both love the same hockey team, and last summer I took care of him for a day, my first experience with taking care of an elder.

    My paternal grandfather would pretend to cry when we knocked over a block tower. When I was very little (family legend says) he convinced me that true Irish people’s belly buttons turned green on St Patricks day, so I went around and made everyone show me their belly buttons. My love for Judy Dench started because he and my grandmother watched British sitcoms with us after school. He passed away suddenly 3 weeks into my freshman year of college, just a month shy of getting his 20 year AA chip, but right before I left for college I finally got to ask him about his experiences in the Korean War, for which I’m really grateful.

  3. First Gen American Says:

    I only met my paternal grandmother once when she was 84 and I visited Poland as a child. She called me her international grandchild which made me feel special because I was the only one that had that title. She also cooked the best scrambled eggs and had pigeons in her attic.

  4. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My grandparents had a little beagle that was so fat it could hardly walk. They were always feeding it hamburgers and KFC. It died in its sleep one night and everyone acted like it was some huge surprise. I was only ten (maybe?) and didn’t find the animal’s death shocking at all.

    My other grandma showed me and my sister some lingerie she planned to wear for her husband after she remarried at age 72. It was awkward.

  5. Ana Says:

    sadly I have very few memories, as my grandparents lived half a world away and we only visited once every few years. There was a significant language, age, and cultural barrier. I don’t remember being “spoiled” in any way by my grandparents, though I did enjoy my maternal GF’s sense of humor and extreme intelligence. He died early, of a heart attack, only 2 weeks after we visited. My maternal GM lived with us for a while, but at that point she had fairly advanced Alzheimer’s as well, she was like a small child and very little personality came through.

    We prioritize above pretty much all else, making sure our kids get to spend time with their grandparents, by visiting, having them visit, using Skype visits in between.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    Grandma and Grandpa M always gave us stuff when we visited. I still have a wooden ruler from my childhood. Once I got to go on an airplane by myself (Houston to Chicago) to visit them. Grandma got me a crewel needlework kit and we did needlework together. Grandpa was all about the clean plate club. They had a garage that they turned into a screened porch every spring. They had a piano. And they had the same modern style fifties furniture the whole time I knew them. Plus pictures of all the relatives that were fun to look at. Grandma didn’t like washing dishes, so when Grandpa died, she was happy to move into an old folks home where she got fed breakfast and dinner every day and only had to make her own lunch. When she died, her house was so clean that it inspired me. I mean, it was perfectly clean except for a plate with breadcrumbs on it, a butter knife, and a glass. She made it so easy for those who had to clean up after her.

    Grandma and Grandpa W. let us decorate the Christmas tree in the basement however we wanted to. They also let us play with their crutches. They got a divorce and Grandma W. remarried and became Grandma E.

    Grandma and Grandpa E. took us whale watching one year. We didn’t actually see any whales but we saw loads of dolphins and other creatures. I did find out that I get seasick. We enjoyed walking around in their California neighborhood which was full of interesting plants.

    Grandpa W. remarried twice. Grandpa W. and Grandma D. let us stay up as late as we wanted with the warning that we would suffer the consequences of being super tired the next day if we stayed up too late. So we still always went to bed at a reasonable hour, but I loved that rule. Grandma D. taught me to make fabric flowers–I still have some of them. Also fruit salad: canned fruit cocktail + a bunch of fresh fruit + miniature marshmallows + mayonnaise sounds disgusting, but it’s yum! (I don’t make it anymore, though–I just mix fresh and frozen fruit plus maybe a can of fruit pie filling or some yogurt.) Grandma D. is also the source of our family’s chocolate bread pudding recipe. Mom kept losing it and having to re-ask for it. Finally Mom just gave it to everyone so now it’s safe!

    Grandpa W. and L. (we just called her by her first name) moved into a manufactured home (trailer) that was better than my house. It had fancy rounded corners and a big kitchen and a separate laundry room with a washer and a drier. She had fake plants and a fake cat–they were realistic looking (since she replaced them periodically) and so much easier to take care of than real ones would be. One neighbor who had been house-sitting freaked out when she first saw the cat because she hadn’t been feeding it! I learned that strawberry plants are gorgeous. L. put a jute welcome mat on the back of one of her dining room chairs so she could scratch her back after she couldn’t reach any more. Brilliant! At one point they got rid of their guest room so they each had a room for their own hobbies; they put up guests in a local hotel instead. They were in a park full of orange trees and someone would harvest the oranges and deliver them to the residents.

    Great Grandma M. claimed that we had the same birthday; I later found out she had no idea when her birthday was. She also claimed she was 88 years old–for at least four years running. She was shorter than me before I was done growing, and I was always short, so that was pretty amazing. She made those super crunchy cookies that look like little toasts that you dunk in coffee, though I didn’t appreciate that kind of cookie at the time.

    I really only saw Great Grandma W. and Poppy W. a few times for big Christmas dinners. But Mom told stories about all the baking that she got taught. And yes, my mom can bake (except cake).

  7. chacha1 Says:

    My maternal grandparents had a farm near Fargo, N.D. Apparently it was what would now be called an abusive relationship (in that space-time it was probably considered normal) and there were battles royale over my mom being allowed to go to college. My grandmother won, and right around the time my parents were married she (grandma) divorced my grandfather. So I never really knew him, and only met him one time that I can remember – because mom & dad moved away immediately so dad could start his service in the Navy. Granddad died more than a decade ago, I believe from lung cancer.

    That grandmother got a job at a newspaper in Fargo and worked there a long time. She had a little house in the “city” and I remember one summer visit of a few weeks’ duration when I was a young teenager. I read a lot of inappropriate books and she took me antiquing. She was a bright woman with a lot of interests, particularly geology and rocks, and I think I got my rockhounding gene from her. She was born in 1917 and died just a couple of years ago after a fairly lengthy decline. She did not have Alzheimer’s but definitely did show what we used to call just senility. She had made good arrangements though.

    My paternal grandparents were both educated and both teachers. My Nana was also an artist – she tried just about every medium and was notably good in several of them. I believe we visited them at least once when they still lived in Minnesota, but saw more of them after they moved to South Carolina (we were then in Georgia); there were a few multi-week summer vacations in Greer which were basically the only kid-free time my parents ever got. :-) Grandpa died in the late 70s of prostate cancer … having completed a course of treatment they planned a trip to Australia, and he collapsed getting off the plane and died there. They both loved to travel. Nana was born in 1915 and did develop Alzheimer’s after moving to Sun City, AZ. She enrolled in a local study and made very good arrangements. Toward the end, after she had been moved to an assisted-living facility and could no longer drive, she stopped eating. With a DNR and a living will, she was simply moved to hospice and eventually died of starvation. A tough way to go, but she was a tough lady and had had enough.

    Neither of my grandmothers was really “indulgent,” but both were bright, creative, responsible women with houses full of books and interesting things to talk about. I would not say we were close – geographically that was impossible – or demonstratively affectionate, but we definitely had a bond.

    • becca Says:

      I think dying of starvation as a proximal cause is pretty much what “a natural death” in hospice means. My mother is in hospice care now, and there’s a fairly good youtube video talking about the process (“Gone From My Sight”). Many things are hard right now, and it is difficult to watch someone die of lack of food (though without “hunger” per se). However, my Mom went through hospice with my Dad, and kind of knew what it was about. Plus, her Mom died of pancreatic cancer in a hospital after some time with a feeding tube. So she kind of knew what the alternative was (and she told me what she wanted before she was really sick, and gave me durable medical power of attorney). As much as you can know these things anyway.

      Anyway, as Shel Silverstein says
      “There are no happy endings
      Endings are the saddest part
      So just give me a happy middle
      And a very happy start”.

      … I don’t have any fond memories of grandparents, as they all died before I was born except my maternal grandfather (who did not handle the loss of my grandmother well, and thus was not in a good position mentally/emotionally).

  8. Linda Says:

    My paternal grandparents (we called them Mimi and Pippi) lived a day’s drive away so we only saw them a few times a year. If they came out to our area for a visit they never stayed at our house, but instead stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house near the IL/IN border. I somehow got it into my head that they liked my cousins better than us because there were boys. Occasionally they would come to our house, but usually we went to uncle’s house for family gatherings when they were in town. My mother was always expected to make apple pie because Pippi liked apple pie. (I now pretty much hate apple pie because I got way too much of it as a child.)

    I can’t say my sister and I felt very close to Mimmi and Pippi. Pippi was a bit creepy to me, in fact, and this feeling became even more intense as we got older. I can’t recall what age I was when I started avoiding sitting on his lap. When my sister was a young teen and we were at a cousin’s wedding, after the rice throwing she said Pippi made a move towards her cleavage saying she had rice stuck in it. Yeah, that was…very, very wrong.

    My father loved his parents and thought the world of them, though. Pippi died first of colon cancer and Mimmi followed a year or two later from a stroke, I think. At her wake and funeral there was a lot of fuss by the cousins because they wanted to include a small album of family photos in her coffin. My parents had divorced and remarried shortly before Mimmi’s death and one of the photos had my mother in it. My stepmother and father did not want a photo of my mother in the album, but the cousins insisted that it be there. Everyone was getting angry but my sister and me. I really didn’t care either way; she was dead and whether my mother’s photo was in the album or not no one would notice once it was in the ground. After their deaths my father and his four siblings started a family reunion tradition for several years that I used to call “the cult of Chester and Mable” (my grandparent’s names). I called it that because they insisted that these huge portraits be displayed each year in honor of the grandparents. One year we really needed the picnic table space, but dad refused to move the portraits from their alter/shrine. I thought the whole thing was really weird and was glad when the reunions sort of faded away.

    My mother’s parents lived just a few blocks from the house I grew up in. Sister and I would stop at their house every day on our walk home from school. Grandpa always seemed fantastic to me. He would play games with us and try to teach us to draw. He was very talented at sketching and I still have some of this drawings. Grandma made yummy food, including fresh baked bread. She also spoiled us by buying things like shrimp, which was a big deal in 1970s Chicago. I think it was because of my maternal grandmother that I learned to like foods many kids don’t like. I wasn’t a big eater as a child, though, and grandpa was always sneaking food onto my plate when I wasn’t paying attention. He used to call me his little Linda bird because he said I ate like a bird.

    Sister and I used to stay over at grandma and grandpa’s house on some weekend nights, too. We would play dress up and put on “plays” for them. We would sleep on the couches in their living room. Grandma used to enlist our help in housecleaning, and I think this is where I learned to hate dusting. She had so many little knick knacks and gew gaws that had to be dusted!

    Grandpa and grandma would give us some fun Christmas gifts every year, but they also included some very practical ones: a new cardigan that matched our school uniforms, and a savings bond. Grandpa said we should use the bonds for our marriage or college. I understand that grandpa was a big saver and he believed in paying cash for things, including the last car he bought before he died.

    Grandpa died of cancer when I was nine. He went through chemo at least once and I recall him reaching up and pulling out a handful of hair. He asked my grandmother to shave his head after that. I still tear up when I think about losing my grandpa.

    Grandma wasn’t the same after grandpa died. She was very sad. She sold their house and moved into a condo. She enjoyed the money that was left in their modest estate, which was fine, but she didn’t really take care of herself. She developed diabetes, had a stroke, and then had mobility issues. She had a big heart attack shortly after I graduated from undergrad and while she hung in for a few more days she eventually died.

    Over the years I’ve heard stuff about grandpa and his relationship with my grandmother and mother that make him seem less saintly. He was an alcoholic (he gave me whisky when I was about seven years old, but only a very small amount because he said it would “burn my tonsils out”) and apparently got really mean when he was drunk. My mother says he used to beat my grandmother when he was drunk. He apparently didn’t beat my mother, but he did verbally abuse her and call her a bastard when he was drunk. Technically, she was one since she was three years old when grandma married grandpa, and grandma never revealed the real father of my mother. That doesn’t make it less cruel, though.

  9. OMDG Says:

    Grandpa #1 died when I was three. I remember sitting on his lap once.
    Grandpa #2 died when I was 7. He had Alzheimers. I remember sitting on his living room floor while he sat in his chair. I remember visiting him once at the nursing home.
    Grandma #1 died when I was 8. I remember reading to myself (out loud) and then discovering her listening to me and being mortified. I remember she would do your laundry before the dirty clothes could even touch the floor. I remember how short of breath she was when she walked around the house.
    Grandma #2 died when I was 14. I remember she used to lie on her couch when we visited and nag me about why I wouldn’t eat more. I remember my parents talking about how she only ate candy, and how she’d intentionally not drink water so she wouldn’t have to get up to pee.

    None of them ever spoiled me,

  10. plantingourpennies Says:

    PopPop was the best man I have ever met in my life. Hardest working, easiest going, and spoiled us with nothing but time and creativity. He not only taught me how to ride a bike, climb trees and jungle gyms, but also how to build something out of nothing. We would recycle cans and he would find “treasures” (broken skateboards, wheelchairs, televisions) in the dumpsters in his neighborhood which we would take into his workshop and tinker with and re-envision into some Frankenstein-like equivalent that would then last forever. At his funeral, all the cousins remembered the “wheelchair” that my brother and I built with him out of a broken patio chair, four wheels from a broken pushcart, and some old orange shag carpeting because we all played with that thing for hours, pushing it up and down the ramp he also built into the backyard for us to skateboard down.

    Gram in many ways was PopPop’s opposite, but they were a heck of a team. NYC girl to his Iowa farm boy background. She was oh-so-proper and inside the perfectly kept house was her domain, but she was never too proper to show us love. She always wanted to talk and have tea (sharing her silver tea set) and Entenmann’s coffee cake (or the cookie assortments that came in the blue tin!) and hear all about our day. She was so good and well mannered that you WANTED to be good and well mannered for her without her even having to ask. But she wasn’t into imposing strict gender rules even at a time where that was common. She cooked, but only barely (her cooking known to all to be terrible), and everyone was expected to clean up after themselves, equally girls and boys.

    I think the thing I most aspire to is what I call their perma-smiles. When so many people get old their mouths wrinkle in a downward direction, giving them perma-frowns. Gram and PopPop had more wrinkles from smiling so the perma-frowns never set in. That’s what I want for myself.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My (much older than my father) aunt always gave me cookies from the blue tin! And shirley temples. :) My husband is getting happy eye-crinkles, but I’m getting squinty forehead wrinkles from not wearing my glasses enough. :(

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Man, I am seriously craving me some Danish butter cookies right now.

        The internet tells me that Walgreens carries them.

        Not that I need an entire tin of cookies. Really I just want one. Of each.

      • plantingourpennies Says:

        I’ve been furrowing my brows reading too much lately. I think I’m due for a new Rx when I go to the optometrist in a couple of weeks. =).

  11. Rosa Says:

    my grandma *made* those Danish butter cookies. Spritz. She made different flavors for some of the shapes – chocolate scottie dogs, peppermint leaves. But mostly just butter flavor, some with sprinkles. And she made rusks, long slow-baked stale bread (hot dog buns) with cinnamon and sugar on them. She told stories about her her Danish mother-in-law, out on the prairies, making them out of rye bread and dipping them in boiled black coffee.

    Only once she got really old and diabetic she made them with Splenda and margarine and then they were as hard as rocks.

    My grandpa taught me to ride a bike by running up and down the cul de sac holding me up by the “handle” on the back of the banana seat of a garage sale bike. He taught a bunch of the neighborhood kids. Imagine the stamina, and the willingness to run all bent over.

    Both me and my husband associate the smells of cigarette smoke and Brachs hard candy (butterscotch & root beer barrels) with our grandparents and Christmas, even though every smoker in our respective families quit decades ago (and then several died of emphysema.)

    Sometimes I feel really bad that my son doesn’t have young grandparents like we did. I just barely had him in time for my own grandmother to hold him, when she was in hospice. And she was so happy.


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