Building a relationship with grandparents a gift

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“I love breakfasts,” my grandma said wistfully as we sat at the River’s Edge Cafe & Bar on the Admiral Baker Golf Course this week.

I usually sleep through breakfast, to be honest. That could be because I pull pretty late hours in my line of work and given the choice to eat or sleep, I would rather sleep. Or it could simply be because my stomach does not wake up till after 11 a.m., but we found ourselves, nonetheless, drinking coffee and looking out over the foggy golf course at eight o’clock in the morning.

“I love breakfasts,” my grandma said wistfully as we sat at the River’s Edge Cafe & Bar on the Admiral Baker Golf Course this week.

I usually sleep through breakfast, to be honest. That could be because I pull pretty late hours in my line of work and given the choice to eat or sleep, I would rather sleep. Or it could simply be because my stomach does not wake up till after 11 a.m., but we found ourselves, nonetheless, drinking coffee and looking out over the foggy golf course at eight o’clock in the morning.

My grandma dressed for the occasion, wrapped in a crisp indigo jacket with a matching shell. At 95, she is still setting the standard for fashionable apparel in my family.

My grandma has been living in San Diego for more than fifty years, raising her family and working in her community. Most of the details of her life in San Diego, and her adventures before it, I knew very little of.

In fact, like many grandparents, she was always more interested in hearing about my day growing up than about talking about her own. Even now, when I sit down on her couch, dropping my school books and work bags to the floor, she will smile and say, “So, what do you know?”

But, as I have grownout of my adolescent years that seemed always to revolve around self, I have developed an important skill in the art of conversation making: asking questions.

So, as we waited for our eggs, bacon and country potatoes, we took turns asking questions. We talked about her roses, which she still trims herself, lugging a wheelbarrow around the garden long before the rest of the neighbors are awake, and then we talked about my linguistics classes as San Diego State. We talked about our family, our favorite places to eat breakfast, Uber drivers and the people with whom we are least willing to talk about politics.

Her experience with American politics is much more extensive than mine.

“I voted for Eisenhower,” she told me as the waitress brought us plates steaming with the aroma of fried eggs and sausage gravy.

“You voted for Ike?” I asked in surprise. But, of course, my grandma would have been alive for Eisenhower’s presidency, and Kennedy’s and Johnson’s and all the presidents after him. She has lived through history, been an active part of it and, as far as my family is concerned, has shaped its course in her own corner of the world.

“I don’t remember much about his presidency,” she said with an elegant shrug. What is historical drama to me is simply another chapter in her life.

She did, however, remember when her mother got their first dishwasher, when they lived in the Central Valley in the ’30s. She remembered when they renovated the kitchen in their farmhouse a few short years before she left for college. She remembered her sister joining her at University of California, Berkeley.

“She came to Cal while I was there, but I don’t remember if she finished at the UC or somewhere else,” said my grandma, using the same iconic nicknames for the prestigious campus that my sister and her husband both use today as they raise a family of their own at the school, finishing degrees and charting their futures.

Just how much family history can you pack into one school?

Grandma said her sister wrote for the Modesto Bee after college.

“She had copies of the paper stacked in her garage for years, even after she stopped writing for them,” she told me. “She just couldn’t throw them out.”

I had no idea my great aunt had been a journalist, and I certainly related to stockpiling old newspapers in corners of my room and house, to my family’s chagrin.

Piece by piece, breakfast by breakfast and with every afternoon that I pop by to sit on her couch to drink a cup of tea after work or school, her life becomes a clearer picture, one that I can suddenly see reflections of my own world in. My aunts and uncles, my father have become fuller figures in my mind as I learn about their mother and the places that they came from.

And I see myself, qualities I possess whose origins I never knew or thought to discover. There they are, sitting right in front of me, dressed to the nines and trying to share the last piece of bacon with me.

I do not think young people spend enough time with older generations anymore. Perhaps it is an age-old problem, that the young ignore their elders, denying themselves the knowledge of their roots.

In Prague, life is generational. Grandparents live with their children, helping to pick up the grandchildren from school and assisting with little facets of daily life. In return, when they have grown too old to care for themselves, their children take care of them, right there in the home. But the best part wasthat grandparents were an intricate part of their grandchildren’s lives, a present voice, a calming presence.

When I lived in the Czech Republic, I thought the culture of generational living was quaint. Nowthat I have returned to the States, I wish it was something we did more of here.

Granted, Americans are a different stock of people and the idea of generational living may seem confining to some – we do love our independence. But perhaps we should be more mindful of bringing the generations of our family together, of enjoying and learning from the elders in our communities before we lose them and the wealth of knowledge, perspective and memories they safeguard.

My grandma has built a veritable empire; her accomplishments in her career, her church, her community and her family are astounding to me. As much as I am learning about myself in her past, I am hoping that my future might be guided by whatever stars she followed to make hers.

I think we need to instill in our younger generations a sense of respect for those who came before us – imperfectly though their own courses may have wound through the decades before us, they lived lives not at all unlike our own, facing problems like our own, growing and learning and changing the same way we do. The chapters of their stories give context to our own.

I think we need to be intentional about learning those stories.

I think we need to take our grandparents to breakfast.

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