My kids have one living grandparent who happens to be my mother. While she truly has the energy of four people, I often wonder what it’s like for my children to grow up with only memories of their other grandparents, all whose lives ended far too soon due to both disease and tragedy. I was lucky to have known every single one of my grandparents and remember them well. In my experience, grandparents are the ones who smooth over the wrinkles of a parent’s intensity and make everything seem right with the world. Sometimes I forget that my kids want to know more about their grandparents, and that they too feel the loss.
So I started singing. Sounds odd but my dad used to play the guitar fiendishly, and had this leather bound “Young Life” songbook filled with folk songs, religious songs, even some old Beatles tunes. The lyrics are written out and chords are there along with the words. It’s almost a magical book. Pages are ripped out of the spiral bounding and placed haphazardly back in the front. Certain well-worn pages with the most familiar of songs, light up with memories of listening to Dad play while dancing around the kitchen with pure childlike glee.
I’ve been singing from memory the John Denver song, “Grandma’s Feather Bed” to my daughter before she goes to bed. For some reason, this was the song that popped into my head when she asked me to sing to her. I am so not a singer. I will make that clear. But I do enjoy singing and was glad to belt out an off key version, much to my daughter’s delight. It’s become such a routine that I dug out the old songbook and looked at all the lyrics and was thrilled that she actually tolerated my off key singing and the almost corny words. It made me remember my dad, her grandfather, Kent. My father died when my Caroline was 6 months old. I have a picture of dad holding Caroline during the last stages of his dementia. His vital spirit was long gone, but something about being able to hold his new grandchild, brought back a certain glimpse of dad that I felt resonated with connection for Caroline, for me and for all of us.
Dad was charisma embodied. From the moment he stepped into a room, he effused energy. He was always full of jokes and stories and usually had his guitar within walking distance. My friends used to beg me to come eat dinner at our house because my dad would cast them into fits of laughter during the meal. However, there was a serious, very spiritual side to him that those close to him respected and sought out. I remember car rides back from my college in the Midwest where I’d be in complete hysterics one minute and then be led into a very serious discussion on the meaning of life, in the next. Some of it was confusing for me, but my journey in life has led me back to the place where I can truly appreciate and understand so much of what he was trying to tell me. I am so very incredibly grateful for him and his wonderful spiritual enthusiasm which while lying dormant for so very long, has been rekindled and I hope to continue to find ways to pass on the knowing of who he was and what he was here to teach me, to my children in any way that I can.
When I was about three, Dad made a bag swing from an old burlap bag, stuffed with God knows what and strung from a tree. One home movie that I remember clearly, and hold dear, is of me at about age three, running and trying to jump on to the bag swing in our backyard. I had his bright red hair at that age, and there I was running and jumping over and over again trying to get on that bag. He narrated this movie and what he said during this particular scene, which ended the movie, was , “Jill, I hope someday you find your bag”….This memory has almost held me hostage over the years and it’s just recently in the last 3 or so years that I understood the weighty significance and precognition this whole scene has represented for me. I share it because finally, at teetering on the brink of 48 years old, have found “my bag”. There was a lot of time spent running and trying to jump up on different shoddy sorts of bags, metaphorically speaking, and the lessons learned during that process have enabled me to open to the love that flowed through him onto me and most days….onto my children.
While grandparents might not be present, I believe memories of them can be kept alive and in the lyrics of the songs in the old leather bound song book, or memories of getting on that bag swing, carry on a richness and purpose that bring to life the aliveness and essence of a person in an incredibly real way. Thanks Dad.