I have watched in amazement the transformation of the sisters with whom I shared childhood into their roles as grandparents. Oh, it has nothing to do with the quality of their grandparenthood – I know their grandchildren love them dearly. It is that passage-of-time thing each successive generation must experience. And it is really difficult to imagine heretofore youngsters playing the role in family life we always reserved exclusively for our own grandparents.
Searching my accumulated grandparent recollections, I realize my childhood self always considered my grandmothers and grandfathers old. In actuality, they were pretty spry 40-somethings when I was born in 1948.
I remember my grandmothers in their kitchens, wearing wash dresses covered by bibbed aprons. They paired thick cotton stockings and sensible, black tie shoes with low heels and wore their long hair pinned up out of the way as they cooked and cleaned.
My grandfathers were farmers. Grandpa Maurice had rabbits and chickens – he sold eggs in the Rosewood area. Grandpa Scott was a livestock hauler, traveling to the stockyards in Urbana and Springfield to buy, sell, pick up, and deliver farm animals. Each grandfather displayed a unique physical characteristic I found fascinating. Grandpa Maurice had lost a thumb in some long-ago accident, while Grandpa Scott’s nose had been mashed to one side in an unfortunate boyhood encounter with a baseball and reinforced years later during an automobile accident.
I just vaguely recall Grandpa Maurice; he passed away when I was only eight. Grandma Maurice read her Bible often, ate wheat germ to relieve her arthritis, and crocheted doilies without a pattern. And she complained on many occasions that President Eisenhower played way too much golf!
Grandma Scott was a woman with a strong faith and lots of children, most of them sons. She had a talent for writing, beautifully displayed in the poem she wrote to/about my father when he was stationed in Europe during WWII. She and Grandpa had a kind of Olivia-and-John-Walton relationship about religion. She was faithful in her church attendance, Grandpa not so much. My everlasting memory of Grandpa Scott involved his dozing over a standing ashtray, his latest cigar clamped tightly between his teeth.
It took some getting used to when my parents became grandparents; they were pretty spry 50-somethings when their first grandchild was born in 1975. Back then, I never really considered my parents old, just old-fashioned. And my mother cracked me up. After railing all through our childhood that not one of us should ever bring any grandkids around, when we were gone from home she was done with the lot of us, grandparenthood transformed her into a soft-spoken baby cuddler who uncharacteristically seldom ever again raised her voice in anger or lecture!
My parents were the best kind of grandparents. They never pushed for grandchildren but were delighted when they began to arrive. They did not insert themselves into the childrearing practices of my siblings, offering advice only when asked. They babysat when needed for the local grands and cherished visits from the ones who lived far away.
Now answering to the monikers we originally called my own grandparents, this new Grandma and Grandpa Scott duo were more hands-on than I remember my grandparents being. The lap of my mother-turned-grandmother was often occupied by a grandchild engrossed in a book read by the soothing, steady voice I remembered from my childhood.
My parents’ farm became a place of wonder and adventure for the grands, who were mostly city dwellers: a barn with hay and tools, a tractor for rides with Grandpa, animals to be fed and watered, a woods with trees just waiting to become firewood at the behest of Grandpa’s chainsaw.
Then suddenly the most implausible transformation of all burst upon the family scene: my sisters and their husbands became grandparents. I cannot really consider them old; after all, I am older than all of them. And anyway, the newest grandparents were pretty spry 50-somethings when the first grandchild was born in 2000.
One of the challenges these modern grandmas and grandpas face is geographical in nature. Yes, the grands occasionally journey to the “old homestead,” although it is just as often “over the interstate or through the air to the grandkids’ house they go.” Fortunately, everyone can also use Facebook and Face Time to keep in touch.
Education is an important tradition of the Scott Family. My mother was particularly proud that every one of her grandchildren earned a college degree; in fact, she attended many of their school programs and graduations. My siblings are following suit by showing up at as many marching band programs, dance recitals, and honor society inductions as time and distance will allow.
Cooking and eating are two other customs that hold our ever-expanding brood together. Grandma Maurice’s Thanksgiving dressing and my mother’s lemon meringue pie at Easter are the stuff of family legend as are my father’s pancakes and sausage, anticipated and savored by virtually every grandchild. The 21st century version: baking cookies and muffins with Grandma and eating ice cream on the steps with Grandpa right before departure for home.
My grandparent reminisces serve to highlight certain life truisms. People who have babies become parents, with all the joys and challenges parenthood brings. It is, however, an exponential explosion of blessings that makes the transformation to grandparenthood the very best time of life.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.