Grandparents are special. This sentiment was echoed repeatedly across the wide and varied sample of people I interviewed, asking them to share a grandparent story, a special tradition, or a treasured memory. The names people attach to their grandparents vary extensively, sometimes according to heritage – sometimes by favour. But the feelings of nostalgia, love and belonging were unmistakably universal. Here are just a few of the sentiments people shared:
Baba has always played a huge role in my life, teaching me to bake and cook, to embrace nature (fields of canola, butterflies, ladybugs, worms even!), to appreciate the arts (music and live theatre), and to connect with people. She taught me the importance of believing in myself, being open and honest, laughing at myself, and diving deep for the pleasures and joys life has to offer. Baba has been there for all the important occasions in my life, from childhood right up to my wedding last year. I hope she lives to see my kids – and is around to teach them all of her great wisdoms! Baba always makes me feel like I come from rock-solid roots. Her unshakable faith in me makes me feel brave and resilient and gives me a sense of belonging that I know will last me a lifetime.
My grandmother was very Danish and she and my grandfather ran a prosperous weaving business in Denmark. I always remember the packages arriving in the mail – their beautiful handiwork, made for us with love. One year our Christmas package from Denmark didn’t arrive until Christmas eve, but my dad went to the post office and came home with the package filled with colourful baskets and a hand-woven outfit for each of us three kids. To this day, I still have this beautiful blue and white skirt and vest she made for me. Also, with great delight, I remember how my Ummy played the piano! When she came to visit, if she walked into a room that had a piano in it, she sat down and played Schubert’s Military March, filling the room with this boisterous sound and this wonderful energy. She was special – and very very dear to me.
Papa was always such a character, and such a man of his word. You didn’t always agree with his views, but you always respected him, he deserved your respect. As kids, he would take us out to the garden and show us how to dig up potatoes, or how to plant a tree. Then we’d go on these long walks in the country with big walking sticks and he would tell us stories about his youth, about growing up in the depression and about his days in the war. Papa has had a big impact on me, he demonstrated the merits of being loyal, brave and responsible and the importance of standing up for what you believe in. I have always been grateful for having him in my life.
Niki’s – Oma
As kids, my brother and I would look forward to our trips to Vancouver Island to visit Oma. One of the highlights of those trips was to sit in her kitchen and make jam-jam cookies. One of us was in charge of cutting out the circles with a glass cup, the other would spread on the homemade apricot jam. All of us loved eating them! As we got older, my father’s work took our family far away to live in Brazil, and I’ll never forget the joy we felt when packages started arriving in the mail with jam-jams cookies from Oma. This was such a reminder of home and the love that was always there for us. Those packages continued to come for the next 22 years, as we moved back to Canada, as I went away to college, as my brother and I grew into adults. This past summer at the age of 91, she flew to Calgary for a visit. The highlight of that trip was introducing my Oma to my young son and daughter, and – what was really special was watching her, in my kitchen making jam-jams with my kids. This tradition, and memories of my grandma, will live on and on.
Growing up in my Polish heritage we called my grandmother Babcia (Bopcha) and my grandfather Dziadziu (Jawjew). Sadly, my Babcia passed away when I was very young and we didn’t see my Dziadziu often because we lived in a different country. But what I remember about him is that he was this big strapping 6-foot man with a teddy bear heart, and although he didn’t know much English, we communicated with hugs and gestures, smiles and laughter. One of my fondest memories is whenever we went to visit him, he would always give us kids a Hershey chocolate bar and to this day, I still love Hershey chocolate bars and I still recall my dear Dziaziu with his warm smiles and his tender way of showing his love.
My grandfather was well respected man in our family and a leader in his rural New Brunswick community. I remember him as being very strong but also very soft-spoken. He felt strongly that people need to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences – accountability is a sign of good character, he always said. As a youth, one summer when I was visiting my grandparent’s farm during harvest, I set up pop cans on the top of a tractor tire during and proceeded to practice my shooting. I didn’t realize that the shots I missed were puncturing the tire. When I realized, I was fearful, but I went inside and told my grandfather what I had done. To my great relief, and though my actions cause great turmoil and tremendous cost (those tractor tires cost a fortune), he wasn’t mad, instead he praised me for being honest and for owning up and taking responsibility. All my life I have valued that lesson.
My Gran was Dutch and she was the matriarch of our family. Growing up, my mother was unwell, so it was really Gran who brought me up and taught me everything I know. Her calmness was amazing – her wisdom was a marvel … to this day I rely on the common sense she taught me. I remember as a child, if someone had upset me, she would say, “Now my dear, you just keep your own step swept clean. That’s going to take all your time – you don’t need to worry about other people’s step.” Once she told me a story about an old gentleman who used to walk in the park everyday. One day a stray dog started following him and though he noticed it, he didn’t pay it much attention. Well next thing you know, the dog started carrying on and running after other dogs, so this couple came to this man and said, “Sir, you should mind your dog.” Well, he looked at them and very kindly said, “It’s not my dog and I don’t walk it.” My gran repeated this line to me intently – she said, “Now dear, you think about this very carefully – if it’s not your dog, you don’t have to walk it.” In other words – mind your own business! When my former husband and I decided to part ways after 20 years, Gran came to stay with me and she said, “Now my dear – this experience can make you bitter or it can make you better – which will you choose?” She was right. She was always so wise. I took her advice and it has always served me well. I think about Gran every day, and I will forever be grateful for her wisdom and her love.
This purpose of the holiday is to honour grandparents, and tap into the wisdom and heritage that older relatives offer, especially for our children. Set some time aside this grandparents day — Sunday, September 10, 2017 — to celebrate your senior loved ones.
Pat Fream is a wife, mother and 30-year writer with extensive experience in the human services industry. In all avenues of life, Pat seeks opportunities to hear and tell stories and finds joy in the magic of connecting people with shared experiences. An impassioned fan of seniors, Pat draws wisdom and inspiration from her aging parents and their friends, many of whom are living well in vibrant senior communities.