I am in a long line, marching somewhere to my own drumbeat. I am getting closer to the front of the line. I was at the end of the line many years ago. I can still see myself in a plaid school dress, with a safety pin on the ripped front pocket. I can feel my fears as I run quickly under a viaduct with a roaring train above me on the tracks. After school I would walk to my grandmother’s house, just up the street from my own. My great grandmother would be there and the three of us would play Parcheesi for pennies.
Great grandmother had long gray hair pinned up on her head. She had thin hands and long fingers. I learned that she had painted and played piano and did delicate handiwork. I have one beautiful creation of her lace crochet tucked away. It shows a cherub blowing a horn surrounded by birds and flowers. Great grandma’s name was Helen. She took me to Crystal Beach on the Canadiana which crossed Lake Erie to Canada. What did she teach me? Not how to crochet; but how to grow old gracefully. She showed me that you can do many things into old age. I can still see her at the corner bus stop waiting to go shopping downtown. When a cousin did a genealogy of her life I read that she gave birth to nine children with six surviving. Her husband was blind and died before I was born. The strongest lesson of all I have come to know through time; being a grandmother is an amazing and precious gift. Shortly before her death she handed bags of Valentine candy to us kids. I cried and cried when she died. I was thirteen, the oldest great grandchild and she was eighty seven. This woman was number one, the first person to lead my procession.
Next, my grandparents led the procession. They loved me and spoiled me. I had my two grandmothers until I was a mom with several children, making great grandmothers out of them. My parents were the last ones to lead my procession. My mom died at 91 and my dad at 86. I not only carry memories and lessons from them but I often think they are still here with me and in many ways they are. I have trekked a long way in my procession. I have been schooled, been courted, given birth and raised a large family. I have stumbled and grown. Like generations before me I have suffered tragedy. I have assistance when the climb is high or the river gets deep. I have my husband and siblings and extended family and friends. I have faith. I look behind me and see a long line, five living children and ten grandchildren. Everyone is moving along. I can remember when I was the age of most of the grandkids. When I was twenty- four I had three kids, when I was twelve I had polio. When I was ten I wore my first inch high heels.
Times have changed. The procession is texting. The three- year old swipes fingers across a touch screen to look for a game. The pre-teens have no clue that I understand grammar school bullying and high school angst. That I was once ‘a kid’ with favored clothes like the beat up loafers I hid under my bed. They don’t know that their grandmother had her own American Idols. There is little time to talk with kids today because they have homework and sports and playdates. Devices vie for their free time.
I want them to remember me when I leave their procession to make room for their kids and grandkids. I have a plan to make Shutterfly books for my offspring. A mini memoir personally for each one of my favorite grandkids. It would be a priority on my bucket list although I realize that I have already filled a lot of buckets and the very best bucket list is the day to day acceptance and enjoyment of what comes our way. The gift of being a grandmother is having time to observe, to just sit in a tent or in make believe caves, to watch hockey games, to bake and create or just make a mess. That is a bucket list in the making, not in what you still need to do but in the everyday joy of what you have already done. I just took Nicholas to see Santa. He sat with downcast eyes whispering his Christmas list. With a little prompt he did a heads up smile for the cutest photo ever.
These kids will be in the middle of the procession when I have moved on (and I hope up). What is it I hope they will remember about me? That I loved them. That I liked to play and have fun. That I tried to be a good person and want them to be happy and care about other people. I am at the X, like the map at the mall that says ‘you are here’. I am here, almost seventy and getting close to the head of the line. Maybe I will someday be a great grandmother. I care deeply for those in line behind me and lovingly recall those who led me forward. Who is in your procession? What did you learn from them? What will you leave to posterity?
Before I finished this article my husband’s dear brother Ken passed away unexpectedly. He was 69 as he led a long procession. His grandchildren revered him as the Pied Piper, relishing his fun and antics. We will all miss him dearly.
Pat Webdale is a freelance writer who lives in Fredonia N.Y. where she raised six children. She is now known to nine grandchildren as MaPatty. Pat has retired after twenty years as a payroll clerk at Brooks Memorial. Pat won a Woman’s Day and American Library Association writing award in 2003. She has had numerous articles published and has appeared as a public speaker on a range of issues.
After her daughter Kendra was killed in 1999, Pat and her family were instrumental in passing an Assisted Outpatient Treatment law in New York State designed to bring treatment to those who suffer from a mental illness. She is a former board member of NAMI New York State. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.