When I was a young(er) woman, I often used my great-grandparents as my mental guides.
Hazel and Clifford were a wonderful, happy part of my childhood. They lived on the family farm where Grandpa’s own Great-Grandparent’s had lived. To me, it seemed like they had been there forever, almost like characters out of a fairytale. Great-Grandma was a tiny, little woman who always wore a dress, old-fashioned lace-up boots, and a smile. She taught me how to gather eggs. I can see her bending down before me, the bun in her hair streaked with gray. She may have been old, but her eyes were youthful and sparkled with merriment.
She and Great-Grandpa were content. They joked, teased, and cajoled each other. They were what we would now call “grounded.” They had their place and they were pleased with their lives. Everything seemed to fit. They didn’t endlessly question the choices they had made in their lives. They knew what each day would bring, and that knowledge brought them comfort, strength, and peace. Gather the eggs in the morning. Do the chores. Prepare a big noontime meal for the men who had been up early and out working on the farm since before the sun was up.
On Sundays, they walked to the family church to worship, and then they had a day filled with hearty food and lots of family. There was always a big, china platter piled high with fried chicken. Great-Grandma’s famous chocolate cake would be waiting on the sideboard. Sunday was the day when the old folks passed the family history down to the younger generation. Babies were passed from knee to knee. Sunday was the day when everything stopped. Nothing mattered but being together and remembering what the hard work was really all about. I feel blessed that I was one of the babies who was passed from knee to knee. I came in at the tail-end of an era. I experienced “days gone by” firsthand.
Great-Grandma died when I was ten years old, and Great-Grandpa never really stopped grieving that loss. He never lost his smile or the twinkle in his eyes. He simply became more gentle as if to make up for her absence in our lives. He spoke of her lovingly and often. She was never far from his mind.
T loves old guys. He loved Great-Grandpa, and they became very close. I am so thankful that they were able to know and love each other. It comforts me that T and I share these family connections. We spent many hours walking around the farm, looking through the attic or the basement as the old farmer told T one story after another. Grandpa would show T antique tools, old pictures, or farm implements complete with hours of real-life stories.
Often through the years, I have thought of Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa when I have had uncertainty in my life. I have often thought, “What would Grandma and Grandpa do?” In raising my children, I tried to emulate their simple, family oriented lifestyle. The important things in life could not be bought. What the neighbors had, what they were doing, or where they going were not the guiding forces in my life. Pride in a job well done or an act of kindness was much more important than public accolades or impressing those around me.
Somewhere along the line, I lost sight of those simple guidelines in my life. It happened gradually. Something, somewhere shifted along the way. I have lost sight of these two guiding forces in my life. They have probably been there all along, shaking their heads in sadness as I veered and swerved off of the straight path they had paved before me.