My parents adopted my sister and me when they were in their mid-forties, and my grandfather O’Connor was the only grandparent I really remember from my childhood. My grandfather died when I was 8.
My fondest memory of my Grandpa was this: catching sight of him walking on my way home from school on the days he came over for lunch.
I walked to and from school every day. It seemed like it was 20 blocks when it was actually only five. I came home for lunch a lot and Grandpa, (my mother’s father), would often join us. He lived in an apartment in town that was located between our house and my school. On the special days he came over for lunch, I would often catch sight of him as I rounded the corner at Hazelton Street to turn onto Bergen Avenue.
I don’t remember if he came over for lunch more during the fall months, but my strongest visions are of him walking up ahead in his thick beige winter coat and a black beret that he wore slanted at an angle on his head. As soon as I spotted him I would shout, “Grandpa, Grandpa” and wait for him to hear me.
He would always turn with a big smile and bend down with open arms that I was already running toward. When I reached him, I received an exceptional grandpa hug, with a full embrace, quick squish and kiss on the cheek as he said quietly,
“Hello Beth Ann, how are you today?”
Then bless Grandpa, he gave one giant and patient smile as he took my hand and listened to me launch into every detail of my morning in Mrs. Murphy’s class as we walked the rest of the way home.
Grandpa would sit at the end at our little kitchen table while Mom put out our lunch. Peanut butter and jelly for me and cream cheese and jelly for him. I thought cream cheese and jelly sandwiches were gross then and I still do. I would watch in fascination as Grandpa took each bite.
Other memories of my Grandpa include sitting with him in our brown leather chair looking at books together and the faint smell of cigarette smoke from a habit my mother tried so hard to get him to break. I don’t remember if he was reading or I was trying to. I mostly remember the comfort and the warmth and how happy I felt.
On the rare afternoons that my mother had an appointment after school, my sister and I would go to Grandpa’s apartment. In his kitchen, the second drawer down on the right was Grandpa’s candy drawer, and I always peeked in it. It was usually a selection of hard candies in there, but they were candies just the same.
My grandfather died when I was 8. It was the first time I’d ever gone to a wake and a funeral and the first time I rode in a limousine. I remember playing with the electric windows and feeling sad because I knew I would miss him.
Back then, we didn’t celebrate Grandparents Day. It wasn’t really a “thing.”
Maybe it was because that was 1979 and Jimmy Carter had only officially signed National Grandparents Day into existence on August 3, 1978.
THE ORIGIN OF NATIONAL GRANDPARENTS DAY
The idea to set aside a day to celebrate grandparents started with a woman named Marian McQuade. As a young girl, she spent time on her grandmother’s farm and at the end of the day, she and her grandmother would visit the elderly in the neighborhood, bringing them food and taking time to visit. Back in 1956, McQuade, who was from West Virginia, was looking to plan an event that would celebrate the elderly in her community. She was prompted to do so after learning how many residents at her local nursing home did not receive visits from family or friends. Her idea focused on the older generation and younger generation spending time together.
McQuade was a member of the West Virginia Committee on Aging, the Nursing Home Licensing Board and the White House Conference on Aging.
GRANDPARENTS DAY GIFTS
The best gift to fit the vision Marian McQuade had for Grandparents Day is the gift of time. Planning a visit and spending time with the seniors within the family or seniors in the community is ideal.
If you’re too far away from your loved ones to see them, visiting your local nursing home to help out for a day (or more) is a great alternative.
SOME GRANDPARENTS DAY ACTIVITIES
- Ask questions and record them —the seniors in our lives can offer knowledge of family history and the gift of their wisdom. Ask about their lives and their childhood memories.
- Bake something for them or bake together.
- Visit a nursing home to participate in activities with seniors or just take time to talk with them.
- Get a gift for grandparents that fits their interests.
- Simply spend time with them.
- Ask grandparents about what your parents were like and learn some juicy stories to laugh at and share.
- Tell them about what’s going on in your life; they can be excellent listeners.
National Grandparents Day is celebrated on the first Sunday after Labor Day each year.