Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Magic of Grandparents

Posted by: Kelly Jensen
One of our themes this month is grandparents or other special people. I thought about telling a story about my Nana’s ghost, but that seemed more appropriate for October. Instead, I decided to talk about all the grandparents I’ve adopted during my life, and the magic involved in these connections.

I did have my own grandparents, once upon a time. Grandma and Grandpa on my mother’s side and Nana and Pop on my father’s. Grandma and Grandpa lived in Tasmania and visiting them was an adventure requiring air travel. Nana and Pop lived closer by. Nana always had cake in the tin and Pop let me help him make model cars and airplanes.

When I was eight, we moved from Australia to England. Just me, my parents and sister. Apparently in need of more company I immediately befriended a man in the woods. If my daughter at eight had come home to tell me she met a man in the woods, I’d have locked her inside until she turned eighteen. It’s sad and unfortunate that we live in a different world now. I do like to imagine there are magical corners where children seeking grandparents can find them in forests, though. Lonely older ladies and gentleman who need the company of someone young beside them to skip and bounce and generally provide all the annoyance that tires parents.

My elderly gentleman friend had a small dog and I took to meeting him every afternoon for a walk in the woods. I don’t remember his name, or the stories we told, but I do remember it being a very happy time of day. I remember the sense that this man enjoyed my company as much as I did his. I also remember wearing bright red wellingtons. I loved those boots.

We relocated to the United States when I was twelve and I immediately set off in search of new grandparents. I was in touch with my own, of course, though sadly my grandfather had already passed and my pop’s health was in decline. Still, a child like me needed more regular visits with a cake tin, and more ears to bend—for longer.

I found my new grandparents two houses away. I remember their names. Larry and Vivienne. They had children of their own, and grandchildren, but seemed quite happy to take on another pair—I dragged my sister along with me this time. Vivienne worked at the Supreme Court in D.C. and used to take us into the city for lunch and sometimes we’d get a tour of this building or that. Larry built things in his garage. I helped. They hosted my sweet sixteenth birthday party at their house—yep, by this time, I’d dragged my whole family along with me. Those poor, poor people.

When I returned to Australia to attend college I was able to visit my own grandparents more frequently then, and did so. I could listen to my Nana’s stories for hours. She’d lived a pioneering life in Western Australia before settling down in Sydney where she and Pop owned a milk bar (for the Americans, that’s a corner store). She told me tales of blood poisoning and water mining and camping rough in the outback and her travels to Indonesia and Japan. She’d had the most amazing life and I absorbed it all with multiple cups of weak, milky tea, and cake from the tin. Then she would read the tea leaves for me, telling me I’d marry a dark haired boy from the country.

I didn’t, but that’s okay. I did love one, once.

My grandmother was a more whimsical yet practical woman who named all of her tea towels, bowls and plates. How else were we to tell them apart? We used to take long, rambling walks in woods circling the foothills of the mountain (Mt. Wellington) and sometimes down into Hobart.

When I moved back to the United States, I didn’t immediately seek replacements for these women I’d come to know better, in the way only an adult grandchild can come to know their grandparents. But as soon as I had a child of my own, the cycle started again. My daughter has her own grandparents; a grandmother in Nevada and my parents in Australia. But none of them lived close enough to have ready the cake tin and model airplanes. None of them named their bowls and plates, either. So I adopted a couple over the back fence. Again, these poor people had their own children and grandchildren, but they were more than happy to welcome me and my daughter into their house. In fact, if I didn’t visit every couple of days, they’d call to see if I was okay. They had a special basket of toys for my daughter and stocked the sort of cookies I liked best.

What did we do? Mostly we sat around telling stories. I still had lots, and they had new ones for me. When we moved from Texas to Pennsylvania, we put that set of grandparents on the mailing list and looked for a new set here.

I live in a gorgeous neighborhood. We have twelve acres of forested wetlands behind the house and I will admit to reminiscing over my walks in the woods as a little girl when we bought the property. I half hoped, even as trepidation edged my thoughts, that my daughter would find a friend somewhere back there. That she’d stumble into someone who needed her youth as much as she needed their life experience. Unfortunately, my daughter isn’t as fond of rambling through forests as I am. She’s got plenty of imagination, but it doesn’t lead to wishing there were paths to secret realms hidden between the trees. That every knot is a fairy door, or that the squirrels are secretly in league with the chipmunks.

My dad visits often and he and my daughter adore one another. It’s a match made in heaven. His current partner is my daughter’s favourite grandmother so far. (That makes her a keeper, dad!) My husband’s mother is the kindly older lady type who is very generous with gifts. But, living just two houses away, she has her adopted grandparents. The grandfather she takes walks with—who listens as she talks and talks and talks (oh, yeah, she’s my daughter all right), and the grandmother who thinks everything she does is wonderful. She also has a loyal following at the library where I work part time with forty retirees sorting book donations for the annual sale. Every one of these ladies and gentleman knows my daughter and follows her life and achievements as keenly as they do that of their own grandchildren.

Why is this all so important—or important enough for me to write about here? I don’t really believe in magic, not the sort you find in books, anyway. Spells and incantations. The fairies that might be living in the woods behind my house. I do have a healthy respect for fantasy, though. I think it’s an important part of our lives. It’s how we shape our world into something we want to live in. It’s how we tell stories—adding a little here, something there. To me, that’s where the magic is, in the connections we seek. When we share our lives and our history with others, our family grows, and so does our self.

I refuse to believe I’m weird. Or that my need for grandparents is some strange obsession. I’m simply someone who needs other people, who believes we’re all in this together and that family is who we gather around ourselves. Sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I think if you examine your own lives, you’ll have at least one of the above who isn’t related to you by blood. Someone you’ve chosen to bind to you through the magic of friendship.

Why do I choose older people? What is the magic of grandparents? Well, that one’s easy. They tell the best stories.


About Kelly

If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.

Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. A lot of what she writes is speculative in nature, but sometimes it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.

Connect with Kelly: Twitter | Facebook | Website


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