It’s hard to believe we’re approaching the 15th anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. My grandfather–affectionately known as “Pa Joe”–left us too soon.
I was 21 when Pa Joe passed, so I have memories aplenty, but at only 72, it didn’t seem long enough. But when I thought of my youngest brother–only 13 at the time–I realized how fortunate I was to have 21.
What saddens me, though, is how much has happened in the last 15 years that he wasn’t here to see. Six out of his eight grandchildren are now married. And those marriages have ushered in eight great-grandchildren.
I smile when I think of how much he would have enjoyed my kids. And then I tear up.
I can show them pictures of Pa Joe, but they’ll never know him. My grandmother, Louise, lost her husband almost 15 years ago. She has lived 15 years without him.
Some of my fondest memories of Pa Joe take me back to his garage. I can picture his Craftsman tools—his saws and scrap wood throughout. I remember prepping for the Pinewood Derby in that garage. The Derby was a chance for Scouts to earn racing glory as they watched their small, wooden cars descend down the long track. Pa Joe had made these cars with his son, my uncle, so he was an old pro by the time I was in school. I remember the first car he helped me make; it somewhat resembled a station wagon, not the most aesthetically pleasing, but that was by design. Pa Joe knew just where to put the weights. It was definitely one of those “sleeper” cars, the kind you’d see and casually dismiss, not really considering it a real threat.
When it came time for the Derby, though, our burgundy station wagon didn’t disappoint. I took first place that night—destroying the competition—and I couldn’t wait to show Pa my medal, our medal.
The next year, we made our Derby car a little sportier by reworking the profile and back end. We chose black this time, and I loaded that baby up with as many decals as I could find. It looked terrific, but it wasn’t just a pretty face—it performed, too. I took second place that year, and I was just as proud of my silver medal.
I still have the cars, and I still have the medals. In fact, I pinned both medals to my suit jacket for my grandfather’s funeral back in 2004. It just felt like the right thing to do. It was a way to honor him, a way to keep those medals close to my heart. It’s impossible to look at them without thinking of Pa.
Growing up, my proximity to both sets of grandparents left no shortage of opportunities to see them. Being only a few miles away, holidays weren’t the only reasons for gathering, and I’m grateful.
My wife and I are fortunate to have our parents living nearby. Now, there aren’t any granny-pods in our backyard, but they aren’t far away. Our children have the opportunity to see both sets of grandparents each week, which I think is great.
Sometimes, though, I sense that some are scoffing or rolling their eyes at the drop-off frequency at Nanna and Grandpa’s or Nonno and Nonna’s. We’ve heard a comment or two, usually subtle, but there’s a feel that accompanies it. It’s true, we plan specific days each week for our kids to spend time with my parents and my wife’s parents. The days are usually consistent, and it’s something our kids look forward to each week. And I might add, our parents really look forward to it as well. Does it afford Mom and Dad an opportunity to have dinner or see a movie without the kids? Absolutely. It’s great for us, too. It’s healthy.
I know not everyone enjoys the same situation, though. Some have parents who don’t live in the area. Others may have relationships that are strained. And sadly, some have already lost their parents. In short, not everyone has the opportunity to drop their kids off with the in-laws or their parents every week. We’re fortunate, and we appreciate it.
But I won’t apologize that my kids spend a few hours with my mom and dad almost every Friday evening. I won’t apologize that I drop my kids off at my wife’s parents’ home every Saturday for a few hours.
They are forging some of the most meaningful bonds they will ever know and as they continue to mature, they will realize that time with their grandparents is one of life’s most precious gifts.
I look back at my childhood and smile when I think of all the special moments shared with my grandparents. They were involved. I saw them often. They came to my sporting events. They stopped by our home with food. At 36-years-of-age, I’m down to two grandparents. I’ve said goodbye to both grandfathers and now I cherish both grandmothers, 91 and 90, respectively. I’ve had a lot of time with them, and there’s nothing like it. I love their stories. I delight in their unique home décor. I smile in knowing what kinds of snacks they house in their refrigerators at any given time.
There is just something special about grandparents.
And my children have been able to spend time with their great-grandmothers, as well. Not all children are that fortunate, and so it’s not lost on me how precious this time is.
As the 15th anniversary of Pa Joe’s passing approaches, I can feel my eyes welling. One of his favorite things to do was to sit on the front porch. It’s been over 15 years since I’ve seen him on the porch and that ensuing smile that would spread across his face upon my arrival. It hurts when I think about it, but the pleasant memories soften the sting.
And so, I’ll continue to drop my kids off on Fridays and Saturdays. We may hear the occasional “must be nice” from our friends, and if we do, that’s OK. It is.
And if those days don’t work out, we’ll find another. Dropping my kids off doesn’t cheapen my love for them. As important as my relationships are with my own children, I know their relationships with their grandparents are meaningful, too. Time passes quickly. 15 years without Pa Joe on the porch is entirely too long. The memories I made inside his garage and under his tutelage are priceless. I’ll always have them.
Mom and Dad always made sure I had time with my grandparents. My kids deserve the same, and as much as it depends on me, I’ll provide the opportunities.
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