I went to live with my Grandparents when I was 4 years old. I remember crying hysterically and kicking the back of his drivers seat as my Dad put me in his yellow and black car and drove me from my Moms house – the only place and people I had known – and delivered me to his parents.
They weren’t people I had spent much time with until then. Everything about their life was different from what I had known.
I remember not talking much in the early days. I remember tugging on my Grandads sleeve to get his attention instead of saying his name. I remember he used to look hurt by that but I just couldn’t talk to him. I remember thinking that my Grandma was a nice lady even though she kept telling me to chew with my mouth closed. I remember Mills and Angel trying to get me to smile. They wanted me to be happy there. I am told I was coaxed out of my shyness/fear with the offer of dumplings. That, and by Angel telling me that she knew all about me already and (on purpose) wrongly described my school uniform. I told her she was wrong and so the ice was broken.
Four months later, by the time I was 5 years old, it felt like home. I had friends and cousins as neighbours, I had a new school that I loved, I was teasing Mills and listening to her tell stories about my Dad and my Uncle when they were children and my Grandparents were begging for me to stop the talking. I was learning to swim and to ride a bike and to braid hair. I was known by all the workers at our family’s Hardware Store and I was allowed to play on the typewriter and would eventually learn how to measure out rope, mix paint and make extension cords. We went to Church every other Sunday and had meals together as a family.
I was happy and would be happy there for many years to come.
Of course, back then I didn’t think about how hard it may have been for my Grandparents to take on the responsibility of raising me. When I got to be an adult, I did tell them how much I appreciated them. Multiple times.
Still, it wasn’t until I had my own children that the fullness of what they did hit me. Mostly when I think back to those days, it’s the little things that I remember. I remember my Grandad helping me to make huge posters for a classroom project. I remember my Grandma showing me how to graph flowers and to make a new one grow out of the stem of an existing one. I remember my Grandad letting me drink the last bit of his whiskey and soda and teaching me to tie a tie. I remember my Grandma jogging along next to me as I rode my bike and practised my times tables. I remember dancing to Frank Sinatra in the living room with my Grandad and him telling me that was REAL music. I remember my Grandma playing board games with me and letting me help her to make home-made granola and bread crumbs. I remember my Grandad shining my school shoes and cleaning my glasses for me every morning. I remember my Grandma putting me to sit on her lap and “drive” the 1/4 mile that was our driveway.
Last night Ace was having trouble falling asleep. I think he was excited about this weekends camping trip. I eventually climbed up into his bed and began rubbing his back. It struck me as strange that I had never done that before. That’s what my Grandparents and Mills did for me when I had a hard time settling down.
I remember they would stay there until I fell asleep even though I’m sure they would have preferred to be doing something else. Sometimes they would think I had fallen asleep and would make a move to leave so I would wiggle or open my eyes so they would know I was still awake – and they would stay and keep rubbing.
Last night as I lay next to my son, rubbing his back, and thinking about my own childhood, I wondered what kinds of things my Grandparents used to think about when they were rubbing my back. I wondered if they got their backs rubbed when they were children.
My sons are growing up in a very different place and under very different circumstances than I did but I imagine that as my boys grow into bigger boys and then into teenagers my mind will keep going back to the 1980’s and 1990’s and it will make me love and appreciate my pre-adult days so much more than I think I could have were it not for them.