Grandma? Please tell me your story

"A recent article in Time magazine knocked me off balance and made me sad," writes columnist Claudette Sandecki

A recent article in Time magazine knocked me off balance and made me sad. Susanna Schrobsdorff, in her March 19 article, “The Grandparent Deficit: Fertility Isn’t the Only Biological Clock”, calls attention to generations of children growing up without knowing their grandparents because women are delaying child bearing.

For these children, rather than having years of fun with grandparents, learning from them, and hearing stories of their growing up, these children will see grandparents – if Grandma and Grandpa are alive – as frail sedentary seniors confined to the sterile life of a care home, in need of care themselves.

These children will need some written record if they are to know their grandparents at all. To think these grandparents won’t bike, craft, sing, camp, cook or fish with their little ones is heartbreaking.

When our youngest granddaughter was about 12, as a school project she sat down to interview Grandpa, microphone and tape recorder at the ready.

Her questions were short, probing, and geared to fill in gaps of what she wanted to know about Grandpa’s early life for despite his frequent retelling of snippets from his childhood there were specific things she wanted to know more about.

Her obvious interest led to a lively half hour interview ranging from Christmas and Easter traditions, games he played with his brothers, everyday classroom happenings, places he had visited as a grownup.

I filed her tape and pretty much forgot about it until a couple of Christmases ago. I had it professionally copied to a CD and gave one CD to each of our daughters and granddaughters. The girls were pleased to have their copies. I treasure mine for my husband’s stories told so candidly in response to her questions, for the obvious warmth between the two, and for the reminder of his voice, something I can more easily recall than can the kids. In a few years they may well forget how Grandpa’s voice sounded.

Recently my daughter asked me to get busy and write about our family before she was born – my husband’s years before I met him, my life when I was single, and our life together once we married. Though the kids have heard many of our stories, some far more than once, in many cases we’ve told them in random order. To give them more meaning and provide extra understanding, I am to write them in logical or chronological order. No skipping about.

As she explained, once I go, there goes our family history. Even my siblings can’t fill all gaps for her; for many years we lived far apart.

In her memoir, “They Left Us Everything” as Ontario writer Plum Johnson emptied the family’s 23-room house for sale after her 93-year-old mother died she asked herself, “How could I still have questions?

“Friends warned me of this. They said, “When your mother dies, you’ll wish you’d asked her some questions.” I had more than sixty years to ask questions, but the questions didn’t form until after she’d gone.

Now there are questions I didn’t even know I had.”

Most of us are like Johnson. As kids we have few questions. Later we hesitate to ask for fear of stirring up memories our parents may find painful or prefer to keep hidden.

Sometimes we avoid asking because past experience elicited a harsh response to what we deemed an innocuous question warning us we were treading close to tender territory.

I welcome my family’s questions and will do my best to write a readable history, more factual than fantasy. I would encourage others to do the same for their families. Even an imperfect, incomplete history is far better than none.