She’s on the verge of 91 and changing, of course, as we all do when we age. But all I can think of are the shining star moments throughout my life when my grandmother (and my grandfather, and my other grandparents) were front and center.
When you’re young, you don’t realize how amazing and foundational it is to have this generational connection. We learn certain things from our parents but the traditions and lessons our grandparents give resonate differently. We hear them, we are softer with them. We rebel against our parents in adolescence but our grandparents are islands in the sea of turbulent change.
Yesterday, at my children’s school for an assembly, I saw a much older man moving through the halls and it reminded me how my late grandfather used to volunteer in my cousins’ school fairly regularly. Everyone in the school called him Grandpa Artie, as we did. He had the time and the patience in his later years to help in the classrooms, to read to children, to be the benevolent spirit guiding their way with compassion and love.
Both Grandpa Artie and Grandma Sheila had incredibly soft hands. Grandma Sheila still does. They are elegant, even if they are more bent with age now. And that was the lesson my grandmother’s presence has always taught me, if not in words but by example.
Grandma Sheila epitomized the definition of elegance. Her hair and makeup perfect, her outfits and jewelry aligned, I never saw her come undone. When my brazen spirit ran off-kilter, she was the vision of calm, patience, understanding.
She tried to be the peacemaker among us all.
When I made the difficult decision to end my first marriage, it was Grandma Sheila who came over to babysit my then-one-year-old son while I went to meet with the attorney. When I returned, I fell into her arms in tears and admitted out loud for the first time what I was in the process of doing. She didn’t judge. She just held me and was my support, as she always had been.
And until about a year and a half ago, Grandma Sheila drove her own car to my house for Shabbat dinners with my children. My eldest son, Asher, walked her back to the car when she was ready to leave, his arm laced through hers, the consummate little gentleman.
She was the one who taught me to have a plate just to take the used tea bags, that it wasn’t proper to leave them on the saucer beside the tea cup. She had this tiny pair of silver grape scissors that she used for separating stems of grapes instead of pulling them from the bowl.
I am so fortunate to have grown up with four grandparents around me. My first grandparent to leave this earth did so on the eve of my college graduation. I had all three of my remaining grandparents at my first wedding.
My eldest son is named after Grandpa Artie. My youngest son is named after Grandpa Sid.
Grandma Sheila holds the flame of the generations alight still today.
I write this to honor the legacy of the generations, and to shine the spotlight on so many unnameable lessons my grandparents gave to me. I hope I follow their shining example of selfless love and exquisite joy.
When I was in middle school, my grandmother took me shopping for a day at Fairlane Mall. We drove fast on the highway from my house to Dearborn, and I pleaded with my grandmother to play my favorite radio station, the popular tunes of the 1980s. She agreed without complaint.
The music bopped and jammed as we hurtled along the roadway toward our destination. A beautiful Saturday afternoon, just me and my very hip grandmother.
At the crest of a hill on the undulating highway, a car was stalled in the middle lane. Our lane. We couldn’t have seen it and we couldn’t have slowed much once we did.
Grandma reached her arm across my chest to hold me back and with her left hand, steered the car around the stalled vehicle. We spun through all three lanes and ended up perpendicular to the roadway.
Miraculously, no one was hurt and not much damage was done to any car. Grandma switched off the radio completely. The car filled with pregnant silence. We righted the car and drove along our way, once we knew all was well.
I almost burst into tears. Surely it was my fault for making my sweet grandmother play such horrible trendy music in the car. Surely my music distracted her driving.
Don’t worry, she assured me. It had nothing to do with the music. It wasn’t my fault.
I replay that accident in my head as if it were yesterday, though it was truly 30 years ago. I don’t know if she even remembers it.
And we spent the rest of the day walking hand in hand, my small hand in her soft firm grip, through the shining mall, oohing and ahhing at the treasures we found.