Lessons From Grandparents

2010 January 27
by Grace Boyle

There’s conventional wisdom that we draw from the influence of our parents (or lack thereof) but there’s less about our grandparents or even great-grandparents, beyond.

Maternal Ties

My mom’s parents are still alive. They’re both 100% Italian and have 7 brothers and sisters, each. They’re Nunnie and Popo.

I recently emailed my Popo (he types in ALL CAPS in all his emails LIKE THIS). I updated him about what I was up to: my recent trip for work, travel, life and friends.

In reply he wrote simply, “YOU ARE A GROWN UP NOW. YOU ARE A FINE YOUNG LADY.” Although he does have a loud, vivacious voice he wasn’t yelling, but he always speaks the truth. And his point touched me, deeply.

My Popo worked for 40 years, tirelessly on the B&O Railroad in West Virginia, they lost two children, then raised three children (my mother being the eldest). He’s the kind of respectable man that the Mayor, Chief of Police and District Attorney look up to and talk to regularly. He’s opinionated. He still bends down, to tie my Nunnie’s shoe laces and holds her hand when walking. They’ve been married for over 60 years. He has his own garden – him and my Nunnie can their vegetables, make spaghetti sauce from scratch and roasted peppers then selflessly give away to their children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends.

He respects me and is proud of me. I only hope to be half the people my Nunnie and Popo are.

Paternal Love

I never met my dad’s parents. They had both passed away before he was 26 – he hadn’t even met my mom yet.

I secretly lament that I never met my dad’s parents. I’m so like my dad. I hear stories about my Grandpa (100% Irish) and my Grandma (100% Sicilian) but cling to the little information I have.

I see my beautiful Grandma (Michelina Provenzano aka Mickey) smiling at me in her pictures; stylish, with red lipstick, and black curly hair peering out of her hats. Recently, when I wrote the post, Daddys And Their Daughters, my dad’s cousins, Tony and Fran, wrote me a touching email in response:

“We saw your grandmother a few days before she died and your dad was there tending to her.  He was so full of love and sorrow and conflicting feelings about going back to ‘Nam.  We wanted to stay longer but Tony’s grandfather had just died and were on our way to MA for his funeral.  She died a few days later. Mickey was a rare person.  She had love for everyone, she was creative, she had her own business and was independent long before it became the norm for women.  She was Tony’s favorite aunt.  You have her independence and drive.   She is smiling down with pride.”

I read that five times. Tears trickled down my cheek, my heart beating loudly. I thought to myself, maybe just these few sentences are enough and knowing that I can and will proudly carry on their legacy.

How do your grandparents affect you? Do you have stories as they influence your life?
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  • http://twentyorsomething.com/ Susan Pogorzelski

    Oh, Grace. I love this post. Love it. I started to read it and had to stop because it made me think of my own grandparents and I almost couldn't keep from crying.

    Coming from a family that is 3/4 Italian (lucky me got the Polish last name! ;), I know what it means to have that big family. I hear stories that my mom and my aunt tell of my grandmother and her brothers and sisters; just a few weeks ago, my mom and I watched some home videos of them.

    They lived in the same house for most of their lives, even as adults. Their children grew up together, more like brothers and sisters than cousins. So what I heard underneath those stories and what I saw when I watched those videos was what so endears me to my family: there's love there.

    Family is and always will be the most important thing in the world to me. So when I read posts like yours wherein you understand the beauty of the people in your life, I'm so touched. Our family can teach us more about the world than anyone else; it's such a shame that their stories and wisdom is sometimes discarded, disregarded. Because they've been here before — exactly where we are now. Another time, a different culture, but still experiencing the same growing pains, having self-doubts and uncertainty and fears, learning how to love, learning how to be strong. They have so much life in them…and so much love.

    I'm so grateful for this post, Grace. It's a beautiful piece. And I have no doubt that you will be carrying on your grandmother's legacy. Just from knowing you and reading that paragraph about her, it seems like you have a lot of her spirit in you.

    Pretty incredible.

  • http://twitter.com/freckledjess Jessica Caruso

    I don't know if it's an Italian thing or not but like you and Susan, I have such pride in my grandparents. They are/were exceptional people whom I hold all people to their standards (which most fail to reach). Even as a brat teenager when the world revolved around me, I wanted nothing more than the couple days a week that I spent with them. You never felt unloved or like I wasn't being heard. My Grandfather knew more about my struggles and happy moments than anyone else in my life. Being so connected to him was joyous and still is. No man will ever hold a candle to him.

    And don't even get me started on watching the relationship him and my grandmother had. Everything I want in this world is based on what they showed me intentionally and not just by their presence.

    I come from great people and like you I hope I can become half the people they are and make my future family just as happy as they do me.

  • http://fiwk.blogspot.com Royce

    In response to your commenters I don't think it's just an Italian thing cause my family is totally the same way. I never knew my paternal grandparents although all indications are that they were pretty fantastic (my Dad's mom, in particular, gets highly praised), but I am really close with my maternal grandparents and they are a HUGE inspiration for me.

    I still remember writing an essay about how my Grandma is “the nicest person I know” when I was in maybe third grade or something. And she is still the nicest person I know. And my Grandpa is almost eighty and still flies planes for a living – in fact he works two jobs because he also is an FAA inspector. And he has some amazing stories about flying which make him the coolest person in the history of our family by a mile.

    So I agree with you completely – grandparents can be a huge source of inspiration for us. I must remember to give my grandparents a great hug next time I see them.

  • http://www.vickiboykis.com Vicki

    This is such a sweet post. I especially love the old picture. We all have to cling onto the grandparents we have because they are windows into another era for us. I also only have one grandpa left. I was born in Russia and we left for America in 91 so I didn't experience, but I understand much of the Soviet Union that he lived through.

    He was born in the 1930s and when World War II started, his family went into exile in Uzbekistan (my mom's family is Jewish,) where he experienced starvation and death (I wrote about this a bit here: http://bit.ly/bcnk91 and here http://bit.ly/b4UzWD. When he came back, he lived through cold, hungry and frightening Stalinist Russia as a Jew, one of Stalin's favorite political enemies and scapegoats, then Kruschev, then Brezhnev and married my grandma and had my mom and my aunt. In the 70s when the Soviet Union laxed its standards for allowing Jews to immigrate, he tried to leave with his family to Israel but Soviet officials wouldn't let him and made him renounce Israel in front of a public assembly. In spite of all of these hardships, he has an enormous sense of humor and knowledge and love for the world and appreciation of nature and beauty. I love him.

    Every time I visit him I bring a camera and a video camera because I want to glean as much as possible .

  • http://ryanstephensmarketing.com/blog/ ryanstephens

    One of my absolute favorite things to do now that I'm back in Texas is go visit with my grandparents. I'm VERY fortunate in that all 4 are still alive (one of the few people I know our age with this distinction). And my mother's parents live 2 minutes away, my dad's about 15. It's AWESOME! They always have so much wisdom to impart.

    I even made a Squidoo Lense about my Grandpa

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Susan Thank you for your heartfelt response. I received both those e-mails in the last week (from Grandpa) and then from my cousins about my Grandma I never met so I felt it was time to write. You're right, our family can teach us so much and when they're around we're extremely lucky. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jessica There is something about the paternal nature of Grandparents, but they aren't your parents (during those teenage years ha) so there's usually a level of maturity and wisdom we tend to experience with Grandparents. Thank you so much for sharing, it's so good to hear everyone's story.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Royce It definitely doesn't matter what your nationality may be – love is love. And even though us Italians are family-driven, many other cultures are as well : ) Your Grandpa sounds rad! I like hearing everyone's inspiration from their Grandparents, thanks for sharing, yo.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Vicki I like how you bring up “they are windows into another era for us,” because I didn't bring that up but I very much feel the same way. Thank you for sharing such a touching story about bravery and love from your family. Good idea about bringing a camera and video camera, you can never have enough documented memories!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Ryan Yes, you made a Squidoo Lense, I'm checking it out now. And you're very lucky to be so close to them. I wish I lived close to mine! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://doniree.com doniree

    My grandfather types in ALL CAPS like that too :) “DONIREE, YOUR GRANNY AND I ARE SO PROUD OF YOU. LOVE YOU.” It's really sweet :)

    Lessons learned from my grandparents? LOVE. My mom's mom took care of my grandfather his whole life, most notably in his last few years after suffering Dementia and Alzheimer's. They're 60+ year, puppylove, unconditional love for each other is something I want to mimic in my own life and relationships. Beautiful post, love! :)

  • http://www.bossygirls.blogspot.com/ Caitlin

    Grace that's a lovely post – your grandmother's picture is so beautiful! I think it's so important to look to our older family members for guidance, support, and also for personality traits you will most likely grow into :)
    I have always been dragging home things from the side of the road and I can't pass a junkyard without wanting to stop and dig around for treasures I can refinish or make something out of. Recently, I was in my granfather's basement (he ALWAYS wants to show me some antique he's got) and I saw an army helmet – a really old one.
    “Where did you get that?” I asked
    “Oh, from a junkyard…. ” I couldn't stop from laughing
    The apple doesn't fall far!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Caitlin That's so cute about your Grandfather! I definitely agree that looking for personality traits to grow into is a great aspect of seeing your 'elders' in your bloodline. It's always fulfilling too. I love that picture of my Grandma, she's stylish and beautiful (and love the era too)! Thanks for sharing :)

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  • Leslie_Forman

    Grace, I like this a lot. My grandparents have also had a huge impact on my life, teaching me about love, curiosity, discipline, and general enthusiasm. I come from a pretty big family. My mom's parents: Christian, from California. My dad's parents: Jewish, from Boston. Both couples stayed married more than sixty years; both of my grandfathers passed away last year, after many, many years of caregiving (for, in one case, by, in the other) their beloved spouses.

    I wrote a somewhat similar post here on my blog, a many-storied tribute to my maternal grandfather: http://www.leslieforman.com/2010/01/from-nigeri

    Thanks for writing this :)

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Leslie I just commented on your post, thank you for pointing me in that direction. I love the co-existing opposites (coasts, religion, etc.) in your family. Big families are fun and really push us! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.quarterlifelady.com/ Akirah

    I love my grandmas. Unfortunately, they are both in poor health. I haven't spoken to my father's mom because she is prideful and embarrassed about her condition. We think she had a stroke, but no one exactly knows and she's kinda gone into hiding. I pray we will see each other again soon.

    My mom's mom is a feisty woman. She was recently started exhibiting the early signs of dementia. She's very needy, which is not how she's ever been. This is a woman who survived an abusive marriage and raised five children. I've learned so much about strength from her.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Doni That's so cute he types in all CAPS as well! I read the post you wrote about your Grandparents' love, so so sweet. It's great to have something like that to look up to!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Akirah Thank you for sharing your stories – they were very touching. I find that even through heartache and frustration, we can still learn a lot. Even still, I hope both of your Grandma's are still staying strong. Thank you again for sharing and stopping by!

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  • Jayboyle

    Great post Grace! You honor us all. Thank you.

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