I am acutely aware of the ticking of the clock as I age at one end of the life spectrum and my three young grandsons grow at the other.
What will they remember of me?
My own paternal grandfather died when I was 6, so I have only a vague recollection of him. My maternal grandfather, however, lived until I was sophomore in college. He lived to an age that my brain had developed to the point of fondly remembering him. Whatever that point in time was, I’m not sure, but it was certainly after the age of 6.
So I try to eat sensibly and I exercise daily with a walk and a bicycle ride so as to stay healthy enough to interact with my own grandsons, aged 8, 7 and 2. There’s no guarantee that diet and exercise will lead to longevity. Fluke things can happen, as with an accident or a catastrophic disease, but why not try?
Shortly after I was born, my father shipped out to the Pacific for WWII duty. So did an uncle, who left behind infant twins. My mother and my aunt, together with we three infants, moved to my grandparents’ farm in northern Vermont. My grandfather did the barn chores in the early morning, went to work as the manager of the Carey Maple Sugar factory in St. Johnsbury during the day, came home to spend some time with three grandchildren, then did the barn chores late in the evening. I reflect in awe at that energy and resolve that would have entailed.
As pre-teens we spent glorious summer vacations on a subsequent farm in Lyndonville, and in my teen years my grandparents lived in an upstairs apartment over my parents’ home in Athol after the farm grew to be too much for them to manage. My grandfather then started a real estate business, grooming my mother for her eventual career.
So I have vivid memories of these grandparents, which is what I hope to leave to my own grandsons. I have skied with the older two and been a spectator at their organized sporting events. With the youngest of the three, I read books and draw, plus watch his antics.
“Look, Grandpa!” is the sweet invitation to watch the ensuing goofiness, such as jumping off the couch. Grandparents are a step removed from discipline. That’s for parents. We get to spoil.
“I have no rules at my house,” says a friend. “If the grandkids want to have ice cream before dinner, we have ice cream. If they want to stay up late and go in the pool, we stay up late. If they want bacon for breakfast, we have bacon. I’ve told my daughters, ‘That’s the way it is.’”
Grandparents make grandchildren feel special.
Grandparents are also a link into the more distant past, to the family lore. I have a bounty of photographs and documents that the grandchildren may browse through in the future, but it’s the personal memories that are the strongest.
My grandfather let us paint his barn when we were little. He let us each “adopt” one of the dairy cows. He brought in a small workhorse for us to ride in the summer. He made us toys in his wood shop. He shared holidays with us. He attended our sporting events and school activities. He was, in short, a part of our lives.
I was thinking about all this the other day, and I remembered two of his familiar sayings. First, “If you always pick the worst apple from the barrel (before it goes bad and goes to waste), you’re always eating the worst apple.” Lesson: Don’t settle for less.
Later, in reference to his real estate business, “Never do a transaction that you’re ashamed of, for it will haunt you for the rest of your life.” Lesson: Honesty is the best policy.
He left a legacy of caring and affirmation.
“Few people were ever loved more and thought more of than my Uncle Fred,” wrote a nephew who as a boy often spent summers with my grandparents after the death of his father. “We looked up to him all our lives. Whatever he said made it so. We looked to him for advice, for love and, as kids, for candy and some change out of his pocket. Somehow there was always some there.”
If I can be as much to my grandsons, I will have passed on the legacy of a grandfather that was left to me.
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.