Nan lived with us after we buried my grandfather. Every morning, I’d drag myself down the steps to the kitchen to find her steeped in the daily paper and sipping coffee, a stance that she’d continue until nearly lunchtime.
“Read this one.” She’d point to an article with a painted nail. “Then tell me what you think.”
As a teen, the last thing I wanted was to open my eyes to a bowl of oatmeal or a boiled egg and a conversation on horseracing, local politics, or another current event. I wanted to shrink back into the solitude of warm blankets and eventually putter to school without having already sparked deep ponderings on the state or self.
Her finger rapped on the paper. “So? Tell me. Go on.”
Silence wasn’t tolerated. We would talk. If we weren’t talking, we would dance… even if it was before 7AM.
Nan would turn on the radio to the one station that came in clearly: a jazz-blues-and-news blend seemingly curated for her, and she’d teach me how to rock-step or “chassé.” She was always the lead, always counting out the beats, and always beating back any hillbilly stereotypes with her wide range of experiences and eccentricities. She was the most intelligent, most interesting woman I’ve ever met, and she’d fight like a bulldog for formalities.
This was not in a Martha Stewart/frilly fashion, but in the most raw and human way, she demanded the engagement of everyone in the room. Participation. Conversation. Action. Ah, but these were the days long before smartphones took up table space and priority to the person in front of us. How would her ways fair today? Would I have any memories of dancing at dawn? Would I know anything about placing a bet on some ponies? Or would I just have scrolled through my days with her?
In 1978, President Carter signed a proclamation marking the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day, a day to honor them for their contributions to the family and society. In a world that favors the newest, shiniest version of everything, we must remember that our grandparents are the link between past generations and the present. They are the anchor for our far-stretching families, the ones who keep bringing us together around the holiday table and model a life of faith and prayer. In the words of the Psalmist, “In old age they will still bear fruit,” (Ps 92:5).
In one of my last conversations with Nan, she took her fingernail, lovingly painted by either my mother or her nurse, and she pointed to a framed picture of my husband and me on our wedding day. “Does he dance?”
“He tries,” I smiled.
“I guess no one is perfect,” she winked and commented on Wade’s kind eyes and dimples. “How about this, have you read it?” She pointed to a newspaper that was open on her table.
It was my article.
Do we truly realize the value of our words? How about the significance of our actions, conversations, and our participation in this brief life? If we know, then why would we ever waste a moment? An opportunity?
“What do you think about the article?” I turned the question to her for perhaps the first time.
Her eyes filled with tears, but the bulldog fought them back. “I really like this girl. I think we’d have lots to talk about.” She patted my arm and was quiet for a quick moment. “That good-looking husband of yours,” she pointed back to my wedding picture, “does he dance?”
God, your mercy is from age to age (Lk 1:15). Thank you for grandparents, and for memories that are grand.