I’m not one for regretting the past. Each point in a person’s life can be defined as the sum of every moment which came before. As such, every moment matters, for better or worse.
While I may view life’s history without regret, that doesn’t mean it has evolved without its share of disappointments. One of the greatest bummers of my life is that my grandparents never got to meet my kids.
All four of my grandparents were wonderfully loving people. My dad’s parents were the set with whom I never got as close. They were significantly well on in years by the time I was born, had numerous other grandchildren, and lived a bit farther away so I didn’t see them very often. They were both gone by my second year of college – the same year I met Laura, and our eventual family’s story started.
My maternal grandparents were the pair constantly in my life. They would babysit, I was frequently at their house, we vacationed together, and I rarely went more than a couple weeks without seeing them. As an added perk, for the first eleven years of my life, I was their only grandchild. They would only go on to have one more. His father’s Navy career forced them to regularly relocate, but never anywhere close. They always ended up living thousands of miles away, if not on entirely different continents. I’ve always wished I was able to spend more time with my cousin Max. Even today, I’m fairly certain he is living on another continent, and I feel bad he never got to know our grandparents the way I did. When they passed away six months apart from each other in 2010, he was only a young teenager. I had spent a lifetime of constant interaction with them, and he could likely count the days they spent together on his fingers.
Regardless, I know that Max and I were among our grandparents’ greatest treasures. That fact is one of great significance to me.
My grandmother was the most blatantly kind human being I’ve ever known. Red-headed and five feet tall with heels on, she was a simple southern woman who never lost an ounce of her inherent hospitality. Generous to a fault, and unfathomably positive, she loved singing “O What a Beautiful Morning” as she cooked scrambled eggs to perfection the way only a grandmother can manage. As she aged and her voice became raspier from decades of cigarettes and, consequentially, years of destructive cancer and treatment surgeries, the brightness of her spirit never waned from her song even when the individual notes got darker. Since her death, Laura and I have ensured our household flower beds always contain at least one yellow rose bush in her honor, remembering the wonderful little lady from Amarillo who gave us so much.
My grandfather was a character, and the older I get, the more I identify with him. He was a family man above all, and doing what was necessary to provide for his loved ones was indefinitely at the top of his list. His life was modest, humble, comfortable, and satisfying, and I strive to build a similar platform for my family. My grandfather was also an artist. An extremely talented painter, he primarily concentrated on watercolor, but was equally skilled with acrylics, pen and ink, and charcoal. His paintings hang in homes and businesses all over the county. It never interested him to go to crowded or noisy places, he didn’t seek fame or enjoy being caught in the midst of busy environments, but he took his friendships with a close group of like-minded men very seriously. He was intelligent and stoic, and I often remind myself of his poise and composure when I’m feeling overwhelmed. As focused as he could be, he was also fun, even when I didn’t always know it. As a kid I used to excitedly tip forward a recliner in their family room in hopes of collecting all the coins that “fell out of his pockets” since my last visit. I did this for years, never realizing he had always planted the coins under the chair when he knew I was coming for a visit.
Because of the way those two treasured their relationships with their grandsons, I can only imagine how enamored they would have been with my kids. They missed their births by three whole years. We have done our best to tell our kids about their great-grandparents, talking about grandpa’s paintings, about gram’s charitable nature, and filling them with fun stories of years gone. Laura and I took over my grandparents’ house after they passed, which meant my kids spent their first few years of life in their house. They learned to walk in the same rooms where my uncle learned to walk 50 years earlier. My daughter’s bedroom was also my grandmother’s, and my mother’s before that, which was a surreal and beautiful thing for my mom. Four generations of our family shared those walls. And even though we outgrew the house with the creation of Phoebe and were forced to sell it (one of the hardest things we’ve ever done), we were able to keep plenty of physical mementos of my grandparents’ legacies with us, as well as years of memories from our tenure as the custodians of their home.
Today, I keep a photo on my desk of me and my grandfather painting when I was a little boy. I have my gram’s knick-knacks all around my house, and plenty of grandpa’s paintings on my walls. And when I’m having a particularly tough day, or I need to channel the serenity of my grandfather or the cheerfulness of my gram, I make use of this mug:
This hot air balloon mug and a bouquet of flowers was given to my grandma when she was undergoing treatment for mouth and throat cancer. During the final few years of her life, which she spent almost entirely in nursing homes, my grandfather was alone at their house, amusing himself with endless runs of Judge Judy, and fighting his own eventually-fatal battles with COPD and emphysema. This mug became a staple in their kitchen, ever-perched atop the microwave, waiting for its next fill of Sanka. I was in college during my grandparents’ years of great decline and, even in the couple years between my graduation and their deaths, didn’t get to see them as often as I wanted. But every time I did, as the visits got gloomier and the end got nearer, this brightly-colored mug always caught my eye like a little glow in the middle of their ever-darkening house. Now, it’s a memento that brings my memories of them closer when I need them most. It’s like a gateway between those years and now. It helps me remember the simple days spent in their company, the boundless love they always gave, and a comfort in knowing that if they are somewhere up in the ether looking down, they surely must have a great time watching my little ones.
An inscription on the mug’s base says it came with the “Pick Me Up” bouquet. Every time I pick it up, its reciprocity lives up to its name.