23 November 2011

One for the Memory Book

When I was young, summertime meant a trip to visit the grandparents. Until the last half a decade, my grandparents lived within a handful of miles of each other, which was incredibly convenient. Inevitably, though, we'd stay with my mom's side of the family. It was a practical choice - they had more room, more toys, and a generally more kid friendly place to be. This meant that visits with dad's side of the family were always more formal, forced and - to a kid wanting a movie to watch that wasn't about airplanes or the history of Utah - quite boring.

It wasn't until I grew up a bit that I started appreciating visits with both sides of the family for the different benefits they provide. Mom's side of the family comes with impulsive trips, casual chaos, and lots of silliness. Dad's side of the family comes with intellectual stimulai, good food, and determination.

It wasn't until I went to college that I think I fully appreciated how lucky I was to have two sets of living grandparents. Even at eighteen they seemed, if not invincible, then at least young enough to not be in any real danger of death anytime soon. The majority of my friends did not have four living grandparents, or at least not four living grandparents who were all still independent and relatively healthy. Grandparents who travel and watch Napoleon Dynamite and buy iPads and Wiis (no joke.)

But in recent years it has slowly dawned on me that I would be naive and ungrateful to ignore the opportunities I have with my grandparents. They are limited, after all. I watch hands shake as they eat at dinner time. I see tables with medicine and hear about more surgeries and count my lucky stars that those days in my life are not in the immediate future. But they will be. Give me another forty years.

I say this because this Thanksgiving I've been with my dad's parents. I've not spent Thanksgiving with them since my uncle died twelve years ago. My dad's parents are particularly appreciative when I come to visit them. Unlike my grandparents in the north who have family decently close by to come visit them often and regular family vacations, my grandparents in the south live in relative seclusion from family. It means a lot to them when I come.

It's not a complete picnic. My grandpa shares my love of language but is often oblivious to the effect that he has on the people around him when he gets on a storytelling spree. The first day I was here, for example, a "quick question" turned into an hour and a half long string of stories and anecdotes. It can be utterly exhausting to keep up with him. He wants me to look at his stories and listen to his poetry and I would selfishly rather spend time quietly reading a book and relaxing from the stresses of my job.

But when I step back from my own selfish desires I realize that the inconvenience of now won't be around forever. I don't want to regret the chance to hear my grandpa's convictions about life and to miss out on the chance to collect some memories from him. So I tried a different tactic this weekend: I started asking him questions before he could ask me. I asked him about how he met my grandma (at a dance). What it was about her that he liked (she could dance well and is, apparently, a good kisser.) I talked to him about the town he grew up in and the traditions of his house. Slowly, I'm starting to get a glimpse of the personalities of my great grandparents, something I've never had before, and what my grandpa was like as a boy.

I can still say with honesty that three hours of conversation with my grandpa too many times in a row can be exhausting - but I can also say that I treasure knowing that my grandpa is proud of me, and cares enough to want to share his story with me. Who could blame him? Everyone wants to be remembered.

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