Grandparents – A love that defines generations

By Valerie
May 4, 2009

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humour, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.” –Rudolph Giuliani

I’ve just finished making cookies.

If you must know, they are my famous killer peanut butter fudge cookies. Okay, okay, so I didn’t invent the recipe but when I see the look of anticipation from my husband and child, I like to think they are mine.

Hollyhock Cooks is the mastermind behind this mixture of sweet and salty melt in your mouth goodness. As I pull out the ooey-gooey tray of sinful delights, a rush of memories follow:

Meet Wendy, a bean-pole 9 year-old with eternally frizzy hair visiting her Nana J’s house, located just around the corner from her family home, in Toronto. Like any kid, I’m hanging around the kitchen like a bad rash, salivating as I watch my grandmother take out some chocolate chip cookies.

It’s a good day because I know there is grape juice in the fridge too (I snuck a peek while Nana was in the bathroom. Welch’s grape juice never entered our family home!). I start dancing around the kitchen from foot-to-foot, like a sprinter preparing for the 100 meter dash.

My Nana looks over the rim of her glasses and says, “Dearie, do you ever stop moving those limbs of yours? Let me get these cookies into that hollow leg of yours and then you can show me how you do those cartwheely things on the front lawn.”

She winks and smiles at me and pats my behind out of the kitchen and sets me to work, – putting out placemats, cups and saucers, the sugar bowl, creamer and side plates.

Being British, Nana J’s afternoon ritual always included a scalding hot cup of tea. Always black and for any other human being it would strip them of their taste buds.

She pours us tea. Actually, she pours me milk and sugar and adds enough tea to make it warm. Then I get a glass of grape juice. We pull out a cribbage board and play cards while sipping on tea and grape juice and of course, eating cookies.

The cartwheels can wait.

I’m jolted back to present day as my child tugs on my pants. “My want cookie now.”

“Ahem,” I say, “How do we ask for cookies nicely?”

“Please my want cookie now.”

I smile and say, “That’s better Monkey. Let’s try that again.” Say, “May I have a cookie please, Mom?”

My darling daughter decides it’s just best to humor Mommy on this request, bats her luscious eyelashes and obliges. Her eyes get that glazed over look as she gobbles up the baked treat followed reluctantly by a slice of apple. I remind myself that I should be offering the apple first, followed by a sigh and a rationale that cookies contain flax and peanut butter; two very healthy items.

My daughter looks at her socks.

“My Nana J get me these, Mama.”

I smile at her and say, “Yes, your Nana J picked those out just for you and she thinks you are one special grand-daughter”.

She continues, “Nana J lives on a big plane in the sky”.

I laugh. To a two and half year old, that makes perfectly good sense. Whenever we see my Mom (and her Nana J) it involves a big plane in the sky.

Back to my Nana 15 years after tea time.

I’m at the hospital sitting beside my Nana J, who is near the end of her time. She’s 92 years old and battling pancreatic cancer and I’m 24 years old with a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education Degree in hand armed to fly away on my own.

She smiles at me and takes my hand. She says, “Remember that only you can stop yourself from achieving great things. You are very special Wendy and you fill my heart with joy. Make those dreams of yours come true and live life with no regrets.”

She takes the ring given to her by my Boppa J on their 30th wedding anniversary and places it in my hand. She tells me just how important her friendship and love with Boppa J was for their 50 years of marriage.

By passing on this ring, she wants me to carry her friendship and love with me through my life and one day, marriage.

She reaches over to the hospital bedside table and hands me an envelope. Inside the envelope is a small bequest with one condition: that I travel throughout Canada or internationally or that I pursue a higher degree of education. She kisses me and tells me how much she loves me. That was the last time I felt the warmth of her hand.

The words she spoke that day still flow from my heart.

A month later I was accepted into Simon Fraser University’s Post-Baccalaureate Program in Gerontology. Two months later, I broke off with my boyfriend at the time, realized my true calling for working with seniors, got on a plane heading west to BC and kept my Nana’s promise close to heart.

Think about your grandparents.

Do you remember the toys, the clothes, the ice cream, or the presents at holidays? Probably not.

As a child, I was blissfully unaware of the tension between my Dad and his Mother. I had no idea that my Mom was simply relieved to channel her youngest and extremely energetic child to her Mother-in-Law’s house on those Friday afternoons.

Was it easy for my parents to nurture such relationships? Not always. Did it have challenges? Absolutely. Did it push my parents to re-think their own personal issues? You bet.

Yet, my parents understood the value of creating opportunities for their children to know and reap the love of their grandparents. They understood that the relationship between grandchild and grandparent wasn’t about them.

Grandparents link the past to the present and the future. As parents, we are the bridge between the two generations. We play a vital role in developing grandparent relationships. We can choose to define it, recognize it, honor it, support it, and celebrate it in a way that continues to empower all generations.

I love my grandparents. I keep them in the present tense because their lives continue to enrich mine.

They afforded me unconditional love and told me countless times how special I was. They supported my dreams, soared alongside my accomplishments and held my hand through broken hearts and tough times.

I learned many valuable life’s lessons from the time spent in their presence.

It’s this treasured bond that I want my own daughter to enjoy and cherish with her grandparents.


Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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