I raced home from the bus stop after school one day as I always did. Excited that it was Monday, the only day my parents closed the restaurant so they could rest and drive to Los Angeles to buy supplies. It was a minimum day AND I had no homework. I had grand plans with what to do with my new found freedom. Play with my puppy, finish reading that new library book, beg my grandmother to make her yummy steamed egg soup with the vegetables she cut into flowers on top just for me.
As I neared our fairly new ranch-style house, a feeling of dread started to nip at the edges of my memory. I had told my parents that I would only have a half-day of school and I would be home 3 hours earlier than expected? Swallowing a lump of fear, I ran up and pounded at my front door. I was seven years old.
No one answered. In desperation, I pounded again as I felt panic reach up and grab my throat as my heart pounded even louder than my little fists on the door. What would I do for 3 hours, alone in this new neighborhood? I was hungry. It was hot. I had no food. I would starve to death and my bladder was starting to make itself known urgently. Dejected, sat on the bumper of our car as big, fat, wet tears slid slowly down my cheeks.
A shadow fell upon me, blocking the hot rays of the sun momentarily. I looked up. The tallest man I had ever seen looked down on me with a gentle smile. “Are you okay? Where are your parents?” In the span of a second my mind went from, “Should I tell this stranger anything?” to “I should make a run for it in case he is a bad man,” to “Maybe he’s nice and he’d let me use the restroom really quickly…” He must have seen the indecision on my face. He pointed to the house across the street where his wife was standing, with white bouffant hair and glasses. “We’re your neighbors.” So, wearily, I blurted out my sob story, wiping my snotty face with the back of my hand, “…andtheyhaveMondaysoffandiforgottotellthem…andnowihavetopeeeeee!!!” He smiled and offered the use of his restroom and phone.
Hours later when my parents got home, my new friends, John and Ruth walked me home, tummy full of cookies and stories from the war filling me to the brim. It was the start of a wonderful friendship. For years after that day, I would visit John and Ruth almost daily, playing on their word processor, typing stories for John to read. I would watch as Ruth worked on her garden. I would listen to John tell me stories about World War II. I remember sitting in their living room, with their ancient TV and relay story after story about my day at school, my dogs, my friends. They didn’t have any children and so I became their adopted granddaughter. As I grew older, the visits became fewer and fewer as my schedule began filling up with schoolwork, church activities, friends and clubs. One day, John got sick and was sent to the hospital. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was sent home so he could be comfortable in his last days. I remember sitting in the living room, he in his hospital bed, me on their chintz couch. I remember his funeral and my guilt for not visiting more often in the last months. I remember my assurance that I would see him again in heaven. Ruth moved to a convalescent home shortly after and I never saw her again.
There was another lady that frequented my parent’s restaurant. I called her “Grandma #3.” Her name was Cleta and she drove a Pinto and lived in a mobile home park. I would pick plums from her plum tree and share TV dinners with her and her cat. She had a mortar and pestle that she let me take to school when we were studying Indians. She taught me how to knit. Cleta had a friend, Edna who was older than Cleta (which I did not think was possible). She came to the restaurant with Cleta from time to time and I would sit in their booth and talk with them until they left.
Both sets of my grandparents lived with us at one time. I remember staying up late and hearing my grandparents play Mah-Jong, smoking and laughing. My grandmother once helped me save a baby bird that had been abandoned in our garage. She taught me how to feed it and care for it and when it died she held me as I wept and my grandpa buried it under my swing set. My other grandma would slip me a hundred dollar bill when my grandpa wasn’t looking. She would take me to the bank and let me try on her sparkly jewelry. I remember happy family dinners and stories and Christmases in a house so full that I slept on a mat made of bamboo next to the bed in my parent’s room. I remember waking up one morning to my grandpa pounding on the door telling us that my grandmother had passed away in her sleep.
Looking back, I am so thankful for the grandparent influences in my life. My parents worked long hours to sustain a business and I was lucky to be raised the “village” around us. Their combined wisdom and experiences helped shaped me into the woman I am today.
Since today is Grandparent’s Day, I wanted to give honor to those that made my childhood full and my heritage that much richer –all 8 of them. Only two of them are still here today and I am grateful that my daughter has the chance to get to know them and spend some time with her great grandpas.