Jane M. Phinney | Sept. 28, 2020 |
Recently I read an editorial in which the writer acknowledged that Grandparents’ Day was approaching on Sunday, September 13. I took the article’s challenge to heart, to honor my grandparents even though they have been gone from this earth for many years. I wrote this before the 13th, but as my writing schedule dictates, you are reading it much later. No matter. Honor is not for a day, but a way of life! Without my grandpas & grandmas, I would not be here. Without them, I wouldn’t have nearly as many priceless stories. And some of the sentiments, that are near & dear to my heart, simply would not exist.
My 2 sets of grandparents were as different as day & night. We gleaned different, but valuable, lessons between the two couples. And my parents were very attentive to both. At any given time, fluent Dutch was spoken amongst the adults, a convenient diversion to protect young ears from too much information. It would not be Sunday if we weren’t rotating dinner between their 2 houses. Each couple had their quirks & each had their traditions. I loved them all. Life is much fuller & well-rounded if, as a child, you learn to relate to all age groups. Such was mine. Outside of my immediate family, my grandparents were the most important people in my life!
My paternal grandparents, Dingamen & Winnie, lived 10 miles from us in Orange City, IA, home to the much-loved Tulip Festival. Grandpa worked for Wanscheer Manufacturing & Grandma was a schoolteacher before they got married. The daughter of a store owner, she was prim, proper and intentional. They were married in 1911 when he was 30 & she was 29. Grandpa stood 6’3” & Grandma was a mere 5’3”. My dad was born eighteen months later. We knew which cupboard held our treats & Bon-Bon ice cream was always on hand. They had an awesome gold leather hassock that spun. We would spin ourselves almost to the point of getting sick, just for the fun of it. I loved going upstairs & exploring the old items in their attic. It was there I discovered my dad’s childhood iron bed. Years later, it became our first bed after we were married & it remains in our home to this day, along with Grandpa’s library table, their bedroom dresser & matching commode.
We ended our Sundays, at their house, by watching Lassie & then hurrying home for evening church services. Grandma once ignored the traditional Thanksgiving menu &, instead, served everything that the kids liked, including hot dogs. She also gave me my first 45rpm record. (Some of you remember those. 😊) When we arrived at their house, Grandpa could be found sitting in his black leather chair, with oak arms, reading his Bible. Although he “puffed” cigars & occasionally a pipe with cherry tobacco, he adhered to his never-inhale-policy. I only ever knew Grandpa as “retired,” but he was not idle. He liked to tinker & experiment. He once made me lawn chairs for my dolls. When visiting our house, Grandma would sit right next to the piano & listen to me play.
When I was born, Grandpa Dingamen & Grandma Winnie were 73 & 72. Grandma had some hearing & vision problems. In her uncertainty, she shuffled when she walked because the physical issues made her a bit fearful. Ever so slowly, she started having some memory lapses. But I knew her no differently & we loved her the same…even watching out for her. We sometimes helped with their lawn care & house cleaning. They stayed in their home well into their 80s, until safety became a concern. Then they moved into a nursing home facility just a few blocks from our house. I remember the day I dropped in for a visit on the walk home from school. I found Grandpa on his bed crying. It was the beginning of his end. He died at 88, when I was 15, from prostate cancer. Grandma followed a year later. Although she had survived breast cancer years earlier, she passed away from advanced dementia. They were married 58 years.
My maternal grandparents were Henry & Grace. They married in 1914 when she was 20 & he was 25. They farmed for many years until Grandpa became a feed salesman. The story goes that one of grandma’s schoolteachers nicknamed her Jessie. And it stuck for her entire life. She was full of spunk & was a tad bit ornery. When my mom was only 3 weeks old, Grandma rounded up cattle while riding her horse side saddle, with her baby in her arms. Grandpa said she was going so fast that the horse’s belly was almost to the ground. Grandma Grace was a baker & seamstress, making the bulk of the family wardrobe. She also was very skilled at knitting & crocheting. To this day, everyone in our family has heard about her mashed potatoes, cinnamon rolls, cookies, peach & rhubarb pies, & her infamous “tea times.” Their cellar was stocked with anything, & everything, that Grandma had canned. My favorite was her Bing cherries. Oh-h so delicious, & a real treat!
Grandpa & Grandma lived a block away from our school, so it was not uncommon for us to drop in during the week. We were acquainted with many of their neighbors since they had coffee together often. No fences separated their souls! My favorite memory of Grandpa Henry was him rocking in his oak rocker and hearing the cadence of his drumming fingers on the arms. (Later, I would rock my babies in his chair.) His eyes were as blue as the ocean. He was diagnosed with cancer when I was 5. For 2 years, Grandpa lived in a hospital bed on their enclosed front porch. I remember seeing his horrible bed sores & hearing him moan as he was turned. Grandma cared for him the entire time. They were married 47 years when Grandpa died. I was 7, & it was my first experience losing someone I loved. I hung on to my mother’s hand & cried my way out of the funeral.
After Grandpa died, we took it on ourselves to make sure Grandma was not lonely. We played wahoo, yahtzee, & Chinese checkers together. Sometimes we took turns spending the night. I was quite young when I started rolling her hair on curlers before her weekly “comb-out” at the beauty shop. Grandma loved her two soap operas (child’s play compared to TV today), growing peonies, gardening, daily connecting with friends, & continuing to host us for dinner every other Sunday. Sometimes I would sit with Grandma in church. She sat in the “cattle shed.” Seriously, that was the nickname for the far back section of pews in the sanctuary. I know not why. To our delight, she always had Dutch peppermints with her. One peppermint lasted an entire church service…if you didn’t chew it.😊 We often went to her house on Saturday night to watch Lawrence Welk because we didn’t have a TV. And we all enjoyed music. Little traditions were an intricate part of our daily lives!
I don’t remember when Grandma Grace fought her breast cancer or had her hysterectomy. Things like that were not talked about publicly back then. But I can picture her on the sofa when she had lymphoma & couldn’t be up on her swollen leg. I took care of her the summer I turned 14. She still had some sewing projects cut out, & ready to go, when she took a turn for the worse in early Fall. On September 10, 1968, I stopped in at the hospital to talk to my mom who was staying with her. I heard distressing sounds & went to Grandma’s room. She was crying “Jesus, Jesus!”, with her hands raised. The cancer was in her brain & she was in terrible pain. She passed away that evening. I think of her every time I use her candlewick dishes or look at her intricately crotched popcorn quilt on my wall. It’s because of Grandma that I was interested in sewing & baking. One of the sweetest compliments my Sis ever paid me was when she called me “Jessie Jr.”
As my senior year of high school approached, I was thankful that no one close to me would likely die. 3 grandparents in 3 years was hard. My parents shouldered most of the responsibility as the finalities of their lives played out. First the traditional Sunday dinners started to fade until they were no more. Then their houses were emptied & sold. This era of my life closed all too quickly! I am so thankful, to God, for the “grandparent investment” in my life. It remains part of me. It influences my girls… and my grands, whether they realize it or not. So I honor their position in my life by sharing the memories & stories.
“The Lord is the portion of my inheritance & my cup; Thou dost support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.” (Psalm 16:5&6) Whether or not your grandparents are living, take note & acknowledge the role they played in your family. There is no perfect family, but the fact remains, they are a pivotal part of your personal history. What did God teach you through their lives? If you do not presently have grandparents, adopt someone, in that role, who could benefit from your support & encouragement. You will likely find that you are blessed far beyond the measure of your giving. At some point in our lives as grandchildren, you come to the realization that it’s time for you to start giving back to the older generation, instead of expecting. Helping mine, from an early age, helped me respect & value them even more. This education, from their lives, could not be found in books. I will continue my quest to preserve my heritage, a “red thread” of sorts, that binds our hearts together from generation to generation. This modeled Biblical principle is worth fighting for.