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In Honor of Grandparents

Growing up as a kid, I thought that all grandparents–not only my own but also those of my friends–were old. After all, they had white, silver, or gray (or graying) hair, wrinkles, arthritis, and assorted aches and pains, and they couldn’t get outside and play ball or tag with me.

I was fortunate in that I knew my paternal great grandparents. They were even older. Poppa Graybeal had silvery-white hair and a bushy moustache to match. He was quiet and soft-spoken. Momma Graybeal had color in her hair with only a hint of gray, and I just assume that it was all nature’s coloring. Or maybe not. She also had wrinkles on her face that reminded me of the road maps that service stations gave out back in the day. And she dipped snuff.

I loved Momma Graybeal and the horehound or peppermint stick candy she kept in a crystal dish on a cabinet behind her front door. And she always let me have a piece–for a price. I had to let her hug and kiss me all over. By the way, did I mention that she dipped snuff? And she smiled and laughed a lot, and the spittle produced by that snuff oozed from her mouth when she did that, and it got into all those wrinkles. My face was a mess by the time she had enough loving on me and acquiesced to give me a piece of candy.

Mammaw and Pappaw Peterson, my paternal grandparents were fun to be around, but they couldn’t play outside with me. Pappaw was a hard-working dairy farmer, and he always had something to work on around the place, even after he retired, tinkering around in his outbuildings, picking apples or blackberries, or putting up hay. He had silvery-white hair, which he wore in a crew cut in the early Sixties but later grew out a thick Billy Graham look-alike style in his later years. And he had a ready smile.

Mammaw was pleasantly plump and gentle, and she used a contraction that I had never (and still have seldom) heard other people use: mustn’t. “Now we mustn’t do that,” she’d scold whenever I got into something I shouldn’t have. I never recall her spanking me, although she probably did at some point. Surely I deserved a few. My brother Dale recalled the time that she gave him a good whippin’ after he had brought into the kitchen the tail from a cow that Pappaw had just butchered and waved it over the table where Mammaw and Mother were preparing the meat.

Nannie Summers, my maternal grandmother, suffered from a bad case of arthritis. Perhaps the physical characteristic I most associate with her was her wrinkled and arthritis-twisted fingers. But they were loving fingers, fingers that I can still see pressing out her flowing print dress and adjusting her gray hair and slicing a piece of pie or cake, which she always insisted that visitors partake of before they left. And Paw Summers was gray, too, with a serious, deep-thinking face that hid a mischievous streak and an infectious smile.

All of these people were old to me from the time I first was old enough to recognize and respond to them. They were old when I was growing up. They were old when I went away to college. And some of them were no longer with us when I returned from college, got married, and had children of my own.

Time passes. Things change. Imperceptibly at first. And then, suddenly, I awoke one morning, looked in the mirror, and realized that I’m now my grandparents. I’m a grandparent myself. Seven times over. And I’m married to a grandmother! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself being married to a grandmother!

When my very active grandkids come to visit, or whenever we visit them, I can’t play with them as I would like to do. Because I’m now my grandparents. I can get down on the floor to play with them, but then I have to struggle to get up from the floor. I can’t swing them around and around like I used to do to my own children because arthritis has weakened my wrists. I can’t lift them–no, throw them–high into the air and catch them, laughing as they come down giggling and saying, “Do it again, Pappaw!” Or I might be able to do such things once or twice but no more. “Pappaw can’t do that any more. It hurts my back.”

And then sometimes at night, while my wife is grading the workbook pages of her second-grade students and I’m reading or watching TV, I’ll gaze at her without her knowing I’m looking, and I see the twenty-something bride that I married. I honestly don’t see a grandmother. That would be Mammaw or Nannie. Rather, I see that young, beautiful girl just as she was before she

became a grandmother. And I wonder where the time has gone.

This Sunday has been designated as Grandparents’ Day. If you are so blessed as to have your grandparents still around, take the time to love on them a little today. Try to picture them not as old people but as they probably remember themselves to be–young, energetic, beautiful and handsome, and thinking themselves too young to be grandparents. And remember, your day probably will come some day, too. Sooner than you think.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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