My kids’ old elementary school always celebrated an annual Grandparents’ Day. While I loved the theory of it, my heart broke a little bit each year because none of my kids’ grandparents live near us. One year, when my kids were about seven and nine, I had them save all the gifts they made and the questionnaire they used in class because I knew my dad would be coming to visit later in the holiday season.
One night while he was here and relaxing in his room, the kids decided it was time to interrogate Grandpa. I don’t know what prompted me to grab my video recorder (yes, before the iPhone era), but I’m forever grateful I did. What started out as a mundane interview re-stating facts that most of us already knew (when he was born, where he was born, his parent’s names, etc.) quickly turned into the unexpected. Who knew a simple question such as, “What was your first job,” could turn into an oral history report for the ages. My father, a first-generation Jewish American, told a story about how he had to hold down a full-time job while going to school, not for pocket money, but to help his immigrant parents support the family.
In fact, we learned there wasn’t one day from the time he was eight years old that he didn’t work. When he was just twelve years old, my dad ran a newspaper stand on a corner two blocks from his home in the heart of Chicago. By the age of sixteen in 1944, he went to work at the Stephens Hotel (taken over by the Air Force in the war) as a soda jerk making malteds and sodas for the airmen that were housed in their 3300 rooms. While still 16, he went to the army regional accounting office downtown and worked on IBM machines (sorting and collating). He went on to serve in World War II and once out of the service, enrolled in university and eventually, law school, all while working a full-time job as a law clerk so that when he passed the bar, he had a good understanding of the career from a practical standpoint. Keep in mind, what I thought would be a 5-10 minute interview had now surpassed the hour mark; I was barely able to keep my hand steady holding the camcorder…but I didn’t dare put it down.
Even in the moment, I knew we were witnessing something special that none of us would soon forget. Even though I had heard an overview of the hard times my dad faced, I had no clue about the details. And to think, I would never have known if we hadn’t taken the time to sit down for that school-prompted interview! And we didn’t just hear about hard work and the value of a dollar; we heard first-hand accounts of his travels all over the world, how to treat people and his overall attitude towards life itself. Of course, I had shared stories about my dad with my kids before, but nothing compared to them hearing these tales straight from his mouth. While I’m grateful my kids or I have not had to experience war or a mandatory draft first-hand, the lessons my dad learned through these life experiences were invaluable, and to think, we almost missed them because we were more focused on the day-to-day details of our own daily lives.
I’m sad to say, my dad left this earth just before his 89th birthday last year. Do you know what one of my first thoughts was once he was gone? I felt so grateful we had that interview on video from a few years prior. So from one mom to another, I implore you to facilitate the relationship between your children and your parents. There is so much the next generation can and needs to learn from the generation before us. I realize some of you may not have parents around either, but that doesn’t need to stop you. Reach out to local “grandparents” at your church or in your neighborhood. I guarantee there are members of the older generation just waiting to share their wit and wisdom with the younger generation. And I’ll be the first to admit, some of my favorite “family” members happen to be “framily” we’ve picked up in life along the way.
If you’re looking for a sweet book to remind your little ones about Grandpa when he’s away, pick up a copy of Thank you God for Grandpa. No matter what you call him, Pops or Papa, Granddad, Gramps, or Pappy, this book’s rhymes and darling illustrations will delight everyone each time you read it.
What are some of your favorite memories between your parents and your kids?