By Jamie Sawczyszyn
My grandparents passed away a few years ago, and I really want to get the message out that there is so much we can learn from our grandparents; they should be appreciated before it’s too late.
When I was a child, my father would always say: “I know that you might not think so now, but one day, your grandmother and grandfather are going to be gone, and you’re going to wish that you had more time with them.”
If only I had listened.
I never would have guessed that the most seemingly insignificant things would be what I remembered most fondly about them now. I remember how my grandmother was never that good of a cook, unless it was thanksgiving or her Polish latkes. She had always burnt my grilled cheese or made things that picky children don’t like. If I refused to eat, she would tell me that I could not have any snacks until I ate all of my food. I remember how my grandfather would sneak me spearmint leaves and barbecue chips while I would groom his brilliant white hair. I remember that I used to think it was made from snow.
My grandfather taught me the importance of books; he would read to me for hours. When I was old enough to speak, he would have me read to him.
My grandmother, by example, taught me the importance of hard work for the sake of love. At a whopping 95 pounds, she was tough as nails. She raised four children with barely enough money to go around, and when my grandfather’s diabetes left him weak, she took care of both him and my uncle.
The doctors told her that my uncle would not live past five years of age because of his severe cerebral palsy. It left him unable to communicate with words, severe physical tourettes, and eventually robbed him of the ability to walk or stand on his own. And yet, 53 years later, he was always smiling and ecstatic with even the slightest bit of attention. I remember when he would hug me so tightly, unable to comprehend that all of his love was almost enough to crush my tiny frame. But I never minded. And she never let on if she had ever minded the immensity of raising her family alone while my grandfather was off to war, or off to put food on the table.
In my adolescence, I did not quite understand the meaning of PTSD. The first time my grandfather woke from a nap, flailing and screaming, I was terrified. The degeneration had come swiftly and devastatingly, and in the middle of the battle, my grandmother was quietly and gently taken from this world.
I resented the toll that caring for my grandfather had taken on my father. Along with his love life, his blue-collar job, and my rebellious inability to cope with what was happening, his father’s ailment was breaking his heart. And yet, almost every single day, my father would round me up and we would make the long drive to visit him. When he and my uncle had both passed years later, the weight was lifted off of his shoulders. Suddenly, I had realized what he had been trying to show me, every time he had dragged me through all of the depressing and seemingly pointless visits.
Five years and three graves later, I had learned more than I could have imagined. I learned what my grandfather had seen in his years in the army, that my grandmother had known a lot of….just about everything.
I learned how grateful I was that my grandfather had taught me the importance of words, because I don’t think I would have become the writer that I am today if he hadn’t. Most importantly, I learned that our elders have so much to offer, to share, to give us. Knowledge is power, and we shouldn’t ever take givers of wisdom for granted.