Grandparents live on for many years in the minds of their grandchildren, and I have many stories and memories of my grandparents. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born, so I only heard stories about them. But I knew both grandmas—although one was closer to us than the other—and both died leaving a distinct imprint of themselves on me. My strongest memories of them are entwined with powerful feelings: there was loss and rejection, but also warmth and care.
Grandma McIntyre was a distant figure to us. She was opposed to my mother’s religion, and she kept her distance from us because my mom raised us with faith. Dad would bring us to Grandma McIntyre’s house, where we were allowed to sit on the couch in the living room while she and Dad left to chat in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before Dad released us from those sad visits. It is only now as I read her poetry that I sense a caring woman with a love of God and nature.
Granny, on the other hand, was very involved in our lives. She was a busy woman but made time to be with us on birthdays, holidays and anytime we were sick. She was a hands-on grandma who shared her home openly and generously gave of her money, delicious cooking and love of music and dancing. Looking back, I also remember times when she was selfish and controlling.
Those experiences with two very different grandmothers challenge me to carefully consider my own role as a grandparent.
I share a love of poetry and the beauty of nature with my Grandma McIntyre. We also share a love of God and strong beliefs, though they differ in many ways. However, as a child I felt rejected by her, never loved or cared about. Though I hold things in common with her, I do not have a closeness that I have with Granny.
I share the love of music and dance with Granny, and I love to bring her traditional recipes to life, especially during the holidays. Granny made us laugh and we found comfort in her arms. She touched me deeply with her honest openness. I sometimes felt left out when others would gain her attention and praise, but my turn would always be just around the corner.
Both women had their good and bad characteristics, just as I do. Certainly each of them had a lifetime of their own challenges with which to deal. And you probably have some unique memories—both positive and negative—with your grandparents.
This reflection on my grandparents’ influence has caused me to ask some pointed questions as I look forward and think about how I relate to my grandchildren.
As a grandma, do I surround my grands with feelings of honest openness and care?
Do I leave them with feelings of rejection when they don’t fit my idea of a perfect grandchild?
Being a grandparent isn’t always easy. Sometimes we need to look at what was poured into us as we try to pour the right stuff into our grands. Many of our memories have strong feelings attached to them. Abandonment, rejection, curiosity and warmth can leave us with lasting pictures of the faces of those who shared that time with us. Of course, we much prefer remembering the ones that make us smile.
It’s up to us to use what has been poured into us to benefit our grandchildren, whether we are using good memories as an example or using painful memories as lessons.
As for me, I want my arms and my heart to be open to my grandkids, not closed. I choose to cheer when they do something good and cry with them when they stumble and fall. As a grandma, I must feel the feelings first and then bring my grandkids close so they can feel it too. I pray that is how I will be remembered.
Carolynn J. Scully is an award-winning poet and writes other works while caring for grandchildren, Abigail and Lincoln, after school. She has worked in women’s ministries for many years and enjoys speaking to women’s groups. She has been married to her husband, Patrick, for 47 years and lives in Forest City, Florida. Her book, Something Good Inside of Me: A Children’s Poetry Keepsake Journal, was written for her seven grandchildren and is available here.