When I was eight, I could ride my Pee Wee Herman Schwinn to my grandmother’s house. She would make me a Boston Cooler and if I asked my Mom I could stay overnight and watch the Friday shows on her big TV: Hit Parade, the Big Story and I Remember Mama. My grandfather was bed ridden so she loved the company. I loved the grown up talk. My grandmother never talked “down to me” like the little boy I was but rather (I imagined) like she talked to all her older friends. She was the wise one who told me what happened after you died. (You went to Heaven and if people still alive remembered you a little bell would go off and make you smile.)
My other grandparents lived in a small town in West Virginia but “bad roads and all” we managed to visit them every year. Usually my brother and I spent spring vacation there. In this little town we could go anywhere we wanted without adult supervision (everyone in the town knew who we were.) I learned the West Virginia rules: every meal was three courses that took at least two hours. (Half the time was for eating and the rest for talking whether you wanted to or not). Chess and dancing were mandatory. A religion was required since everyone in town worshiped in the same building and the whole town knew if you did not.
I can close my eyes today and see my grand parents faces. Occasionally I will smell perfume on someone that opens a floodgate of memories of one or both of my grandmothers. I have hundreds of stories about all four of them.
Things were very different in the fifties when I was a young boy. Most of my friends had a Mom and Dad at home. Divorce was not a common thing. You were supposed to get married and stay married, regardless of how miserable you were. People married younger and stayed married longer. People didn’t live alone. Only around 9% of homes had a single occupant in 1950. In 1950 the median age for a first marriage was around 22 for men and 20 for women. People lived in the same community their whole life.
So it is no surprise today that a grandpa’s relationship with his grandkids is going to be different. Both my kids have been divorced as was I. Both of them moved away from the city they were born. I have lived in three states since they were born. Kids today may have three or four sets of living grandparents; and who ever heard of “step grandparents” in my day.
But it is what it is.
I remember the first time I had an opportunity to spend some real time with my granddaughter. We were at a hotel swimming pool where my son was doing his “visit.” My granddaughter was enjoying jumping into my arms in the pool over and over. Finally after about the tenth jump she looked at me and asked: “What did you say your name was?” I was saddened and delighted at the same time.
As divorces get more contentious and complicated, it is not surprising that many states have grandparent rights. Can you imagine having to go to court just to visit your grandchildren?
On the plus side, if you are lucky enough to even get to meet your grandkids and develop any relationship with them communication potential is endless. We didn’t have Skype and essentially free telephones in the 50’s.
I remember when my Dad traveled he’d first make a person to person call to the house and ask for a code named person and then my mother would say that person was not in. My Dad would then call back station to station knowing my mothers was home, for a reduced rate. Today they could email one another or kiss the computer screen from dueling Starbucks.
Other things have changed as well. My kids used to hang on for their lives sans helmet on the luggage rack of my English racer. They would slide side to side in the back seat of our Chevy seat beltless as we speeded along. They sat alone locked in the car as we ran into 7 eleven for milk.
They weren’t expected to know much as kids. We were not shamed into buying expensive toys that would give them an edge in pre pre kindergarten. My kids heard the Stones not Mozart. Somehow they turned out just fine.
Some things are the same. We had cloth diapers and a diaper man. The kids have paper diapers with Velcro . You know what is the same. I can’t believe I still change a diaper. You are never too old for this sh–.