Honor the lessons our grandparents taught us


Grandparents Day is Sunday! Originally established by presidential decree in 1978, it is intended as a day to honor grandparents for the contributions they make in our lives. On a personal note, I tend to be resistant to what I think of as “hallmark” holidays driven by occasions card companies.

Nevertheless, this one set me thinking about the contributions of my grandparents.

I was fortunate enough to know all my grandparents. Their impact in my life can be measured differently. Grannie Smith raised nine children who provided 20 grandchildren and a few additions that joined our cousin clan mid-childhood. Grannie Cassie had two children and only five grandchildren.

I was the second grandchild of the Smith cousin’s clan, and I believed that I was her favorite. It was not until I was at Granny Smith’s funeral and listened to one of the younger cousins describe my grandmother and the impact she had on his life that I came to the stunning realization that I was not her favorite. Granny Smith had grandchildren around virtually all the time, yet managed to make each one of us feel special.

We always lived long distances from Granny Smith and often went years without visiting. When given a chance I loved to sit at the table and listen to stories of years past. Family lessons abounded everywhere. I learned how to love every child, that everyone must do their part and how to wait in a long line for one bathroom.

I watched my grandmother go to work as a maid cleaning motel rooms, and heard funny stories about the mess people leave behind. Most importantly, I learned that all work is respectable and puts food on the table. I also learned to hang up the hotel towels.

Granny Cassie, on the other hand, was quick with a switch off the apple tree. We spent many years living in the same town, even living with my grandparents for a year while I was in the first grade. I learned to be brave about riding the big yellow bus, how to collect eggs from the chicken coop, cook for an army because all were welcome at the supper table and to sweep the kitchen floor every day.

I suspect Granny Smith gave up sweeping the kitchen floor every day while parenting nine children.

In all my grandparent recollections, I do not ever remember hearing about giving to help others. There was just the doing. Granny Cassie and Grandpa Rex were members of the local Fraternity of Oddfellows and the Rebekah Assembly. Various activities raised money for educational scholarships and especially for the old folk’s home in Corsicana.

The action message was about helping and taking care of others. They didn’t spend time talking about it with our cousin clan. They just modeled it.

Grandparents Day is not a national holiday, but rather a day of observance. It is a time to reflect on what we’ve learned from them, and to let them know it.

We live in unprecedented times with more generations alive at the same time than ever before. Today, you may have the chance to hold your great-grandchildren and to impact their lives just as their grandparents and parents will.

Traditionalists (born 1925 to 1945) are passing on inheritances far beyond dollars to their Baby Boomer children and the adult Generation X (born 1965 to 1980). Generation Y, often known as Millennials (born 1980 to 2000) and even Generation Z, now called the i-Generation, are watching and learning from all the grands, regardless of age.

You have witnessed milestones of history. Your battlefields, factory floors, communities, and neighborhoods have given us successes and failures from which we all learn.

We live in the most altruistic and philanthropic country in the world by many standards because of the life experiences you modeled for us.

Johnny Prill wrote the Grandma and Grandpa song. “Oh Grandma, Grandpa, you know that I love you. I love all those little things that you say and do, the stories you tell, things I never knew. Oh, Grandma, Grandpa I love you.”

Grandparent stories matter. We love you for teaching us to give.

Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy, offers advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact. She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at www.your-philanthropy.com. Comments and questions are welcome. Send to info@your-philanthropy.com

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