Research continually shows the physical, mental and memory health benefits of not only grandparents spending time with their grandchildren, but also the advantages for the children. This includes building emotional and social intelligence, experiencing unconditional love and developing self-esteem, to name a few.
We can agree that intergenerational relationships are highly important.
I was fortunate to have a close relationship with several of my grandparents.
My maternal grandmother, Grandma Faye, lived next door to us in Custer, Wash., for most of my life. She was an integral part of my everyday life. We would walk our seven acres killing slugs with sticks and salt (hey, they ate the garden and flowers), pick red Washington huckleberries growing out of stumps to make pies, and pick wild foxglove and bleeding hearts for kitchen bouquets. Grandma Faye was pretty no-nonsense and, if I was visiting her trailer house at 1 p.m., she would unapologetically shoo me out: “Your mom doesn’t want you watching my story.” That was the soap opera “The Edge of Night,” I later learned, but Grandma Faye’s “story” always seemed so mysterious.
She loved our animals and they shared half-time at her house. Every day, she would give Hairy, the long-haired black cat, and Bullet, the German Shepherd mix, one chocolate chip each. They waited for this treat each day.
Grandma Faye made many of my clothes, including a long purple dress I still have and that my girls each at least tried on. She made Mom, Dad, Davey and Stevie matching red and white cowboy checkered shirts and I still have many, many Barbie doll outfits she painstakingly sewed.
When I was in middle school, Grandma Faye moved to an apartment in Ferndale, Wash., where I attended junior high and high school, about 16 miles from Custer. I would often go to her apartment after school. She was a fabulous cook. When she visited our home in Custer, I still remember her asking my mom, upon seeing my messy room (it was a phase!), “Have you just given up on Lorie?!”
When I got married and lived in Ferndale myself, I would stop by her apartment where she would teach me to make her famous Christmas candies: butter brittle in a cast-iron skillet, mild chocolate-dipped peppermints and Martha Washington coconut candies. She would feed me her delectable barbecue chicken, potato salad, baked, buttery sweet potatoes and banana cream pie. (Grandma always found something wrong with her cooking and I remember Dad telling her, “Yeah, you better work on that a little. You’ll get it right next time.”)
Following Avery’s birth, I would stop by to visit and Grandma Faye would proudly tell her friends, “I’m busy. My great-granddaughter is here.” She loved to hold that baby, marveling at her tiny body.
My parents, and then Grandma Faye, too, would move to Grangeville in 1992, where Grandma would live at Pleasant Valley Apartments. Our family followed on the Idaho trek in 1994 (Dad and Mom had been stationed at the Cottonwood Air Force Base – where NICI is now located – in the ’60s and had great memories of Grangeville).
The Christmas Eve Avery was 3, we were living in the Tamarack Apartments and we had a pile of snow. Grandma Faye, age 95, said there was just too much snow and she would stay home. My husband, Valor, and brother, Steve, shoveled the mountains of snow from our back, corner apartment patio and then proceeded to go get Grandma. They had to carry her in her wheelchair over ice and drifts. All of us, along with Avery, my parents and niece, Brianna, had a wonderful time. Grandma Faye thought I was brilliant when I made us all Orange Julius drinks from my new “Top Secret” recipe book.
Grandma Faye died at age 97 and, though we missed her, it was hard to be sad as she lived such a long and eventful life. She was a true cowgirl, working horses and plowing fields in Kansas as a young woman. In her belongings, I found a newspaper clipping where she had been voted “Democrat Woman of the Year” when she was married to Sheriff Bill Dunnivan in Colorado. She was stubborn and strong, and I knew she loved me. My mom was her only child.
I never knew my mom’s dad. He and Grandma Faye divorced when Mom was a baby. I know of one photo of my mom and him together.
My dad’s mom, Grandma Cooper, was a loving, warm fuzzy woman. She and my Grandpa Cooper, my dad’s step-dad, lived in Kellogg, Idaho, and we would visit them and they us several times each year. They were wonderful grandparents. Memories of them include walking to the little Nazarene church they attended on Wardner Street, making homemade cinnamon rolls at the kitchen table, playing Aggravation on their homemade wooden board with them and singing Gospel hymns. These were the days before Kellogg was home to a large ski resort and was a simple mining town. Grandma Cooper also invented a little thing called a “Crazy Jar” which I looked forward to every time I visited. She would fill a gallon jar with all sorts of wonderful trinkets: tiny pink flashlights, a miniature coin purse, a small harmonica in a blue case, dolls, balls, books and other games, toys and candy.
Grandma Cooper died when I was in sixth grade. [Side note: I was named Lorie Fae for my grandmothers, Lorretta and Faye]. Grandpa Cooper was a part of lives until he died when my youngest daughter, Hailey, was a toddler. I can still hear him calling me “Laura Fae.”
My dad’s father, Granddad Palmer, lived in Kansas, and I saw him a handful of times while growing up. I had heard the stories and knew he was a gruff man. When he and Grandma Cooper divorced, he was given the option of paying $15 a month in child support (my dad was a baby, his brother about 3 and sister about 6) or enlist in the U.S. Army. He chose the Army. By the time I met him he was married to Grandma Toney and they owned a café in Meade, Kan. They visited us in Custer, and we them in Luray, Kan., where my dad was born, several times. When Grandad visited Custer when I was in my early teens, I remember him making homemade noodles and churning homemade ice cream, as well as accidentally snipping my dad’s ear when he gave him a haircut. He always favored my older brother and I figured it was because Steve was kind of ornery and on his own schedule – just like Granddad.
Granddad died when I was a senior in high school. It’s strange the things our mind equates to that pivotal place and time, but I remember when my parents returned home from the funeral and cleaning his house out in Luray and my dad had a small amount of money. He asked what I wanted, and we purchased our first VCR. It was amazing. (I learned right away to record Young and the Restless, which my neighbor, Kelly, and I would watch – miraculously fast-forwarding through the commercials – each day after school). I also recall felling sad at the thought of my dad not having any parents anymore. I never wanted to feel that. But, alas, it happens.
I was fortunate to have grandparents in my life for many years. My own children were blessed to have my parents, especially my mom, for many years. Avery even had Great-Grandma Faye for four years, and, though she had severe dementia her last decade-plus of life, Avery and Hailey also had my husband’s mother, Grandma Marie.
The child-grandparents relationship is important, and I encourage you to foster it, no matter how far away you live. I need to Facetime our littles (Madison, 8, and Carson, 5) in Vermont more often, but I try to write them a letter or card once a month just so they know they are loved and thought of. I was blessed to be able to spend time with them last summer and I hope they will remember the little things – the swimming, the root beer floats, hide and seek and reading stories out load – as fondly as I do.