When I was a young girl, my grandparents were strange creatures–sometimes they were strict, other times they were sweet and most of the time they smelled of moth balls.
I grew up knowing three of my four grandparents. My paternal grandfather died even before my parents got married. My memories of my grandparents are rich even in the brief summers they spent at our house.
My maternal grandfather smelled of pomade. His hair was always combed a certain way. When he visited during summer break, he brought with him a burger from a classic neighborhood burger shack in the province of Iloilo. He would call us out and tell us he had ham-burger, saying it with his provincial accent. The taste of that mayo-filled sweet hamburger and the sound of his provincial accent always bring up a little-girl smile across my face. He and my maternal grandmother were quiet people. The only real sound I recall coming from him was that of his asthmatic cough, that would later take his life.
My maternal grandmother smoked tobacco. She carried around in her housedress pocket a small plastic bag containing a sheet of dried up tobacco leaves. During her visits, she would sit in our Lanai, roll up the tobacco sheet and smoke it. She’d take a couple of puffs, put it out and return it to the plastic bag. My maternal grandmother was a skilled dress maker. I remember her sewing my pajama project for school and me telling her to make it imperfect. She then made sure the seam lines weren’t too straight. My maternal grandmother, now old, and barely able to walk, stays in the province with my aunt.
Of all my grandparents, my paternal grandmother, was the most present. Barely 5 feet tall, she made her presence felt. She was part strict and part silly. I both loved and hated her growing up. She was a math teacher and a tough cookie. She spent a great deal of time teaching me how to be a good girl. I remember her calling out to me, asking me to sit down beside her, as she lectured me on how to be an obedient child. She would ask me to read the book of Sirach from the Bible and make me commit to heart the words about obedience to one’s parents. I spent a great deal of time with her growing up. I remember her calling me up when I lived two streets away from her house when I was a university student, telling me to pick her up and accompany her to the bank. We would then go to the nearby mall, wherein she would treat me out for some Jollibee (a local burger chain) with her pension money. In those moments she would tell me funny stories about my paternal grandfather, my dad, or my aunts and uncles. It was through her that I learned to appreciate family stories and the stories of people. Her stories allowed me to appreciate the stories of old people.
I grew up with grandparents and they were part of who I am today. My memories of them are few but always capable of making my heart warm.
When I suggested our theme for the months of March and April, I was thinking about my grandparents. I realize in the years that I have been reading, I had read very few that featured old people. Very few stories capture the role of grandparents or older people in society and yet many of them have interesting stories to tell. Many of them have contributed to the development of our society. Over the years, at GB, we have featured some stories that put grandparents, senior citizens, and the aging up front and center. Here are some of them:
- Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
- My Abuelita by Tony Johnston
- Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles
- Love as Strong as Ginger by Lenore Look
- Back to Black Brick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
- The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
- Deep River by Elaine Moore
- Grandpa’s Boat by Michael Catchpool
- Passing On by Mike Dumbleton
- Seaside Dream by Janet Costa Bates
There is a unique wisdom that comes with a life lived and a life approaching its end. What does it feel to know that one’s life is nearing its end? My grandmother once, in great depression, told me how she prays for death to come that she be reunited with my grandfather. She has now outlived two of her six children. Her sorrow is great. I cannot imagine that. And so in the next two months, Gathering Books hope to share a few books on grandparents, as well as examine mortality and immortality. In the process, we hope to provide to you, our readers, a more diverse reading experience, one that also includes this population of our society.