Sunday afternoon saw the latest in a string of glorious fall days in Central Texas, which was fortunate. Kelsey and Kendall teamed up to give M’Lissa a family photo session for her —th birthday; we built the weekend around the Sunday afternoon picture taking. As there was color in the park and we were in the hands of an accomplished photographer, the results should be keepsake worthy. The photo sessions provided a fitting end to a family weekend that was a welcome respite from the 2020 insanity. Laughing with the ones you love really can drown out the noise the world generates. So for most of the weekend, my dominant emotion was contentment. But when M’Lissa and I arrived back at our house after the session, I had the strangest sensation; for the first time in my life I could feel myself getting older.
Not in a physical, “I can’t really get up and down the basketball court anymore” way. That realization happened long ago. Instead, I experienced the wistfulness that derives from knowing one’s place in the world is beginning to harden. For me the best day has always been tomorrow. That thought holds true, but not because my life is going to change that much. Instead my hopes and dreams are directed evermore towards Kelsey, Kendall and now Scott, the first of many grandchildren if things work according to plan. Associated with that change in dreams is a loss of control over what you want most. Before we became Empty Nesters we wanted to provide a great life for our children; now we can only hope that they will build that life themselves.
All of that hope gets concentrated on the wonder and the possibilities of a new generation so Scott ends up as the constant focus of everyone’s attention. The photo session provided a concrete mile marker of just how far down the road I have travelled and also how far I have to go. A quick peek into my keepsake box both confirmed my feelings and reminded me that I have great examples teaching me to navigate this part of the journey.
After my first year, which is a bit hazy to me, I never lived with my grandparents. But I knew them well. They were all blessed with long, healthy lives and I was born to young parents. As a result, I was a child and adult companion for my ancestors.
My grandparents were sweet, gentle people. My brother Scott and I could spend days with them not doing much of anything but learning much about life. But John Olson, my maternal grandfather taught us the most. Lesson number one was that life is crazy, but that life doesn’t have to make you crazy. By the time I was old enough to really know him, John had moved from Wilbur and Orville making their first flight (in the year he was born) to seeing men on the moon. He lived through the war to end all wars and all the wars that followed.
John’s mom had come to Ellis Island as a 13-year old immigrant with only her younger brother to accompany her, sent by her family for a chance at a better life. That better life meant John had to drop out of school in the 8th grade to work on the farm, even though he was the smartest kid in town. It meant living through a depression, wondering how you were going to feed your family. It meant decades of physical labor and a small business that finally let John own a 1,200 square foot house on Liberty Street where early every morning he could raise the American flag on his flagpole.
John married Jane when she told him it was time. So lesson number two was that when you say “I do” you meant it. I have never known two people who laughed so much. They had a wide circle of lasting and wonderful friends and raised two great people, my mom and her brother, Tom. They suffered the worst tragedy that can befall a couple when another daughter died, but while they treasured her memory, they never let the bitterness take over.
They had a life well beyond what i know, full of the struggle, uncertainty and heartache every life encounters. But when I was with them, there was nothing but love. From the warm smell of Norwegian Kringla in grandma’s oven that woke us up to a late afternoon listening to Harry Carey call the Cubs game while Grandpa had his Old Milwaukee light and Scott and I had our root beers, we spent days of vacation learning that life is meant to be shared and enjoyed.
People know their parents much better than they know their grandparents. The back and forth of daily living, of directing your life when you are young, of setting boundaries you are bound to test falls to mom and dad. You know when you disappoint them. You are closer when things go bad. Dad had to raise two boys; he never got to experience a daughter. So as great as my parents were as parents, I wondered what they would be like as grandparents to my daughters.
I should not have. When Kelsey was five-years old, she flew from Dallas to San Antonio to spend the weekend with them. She never even looked back at us while boarding the plane. Kendall pays careful attention to the weather; whenever she discusses it, all I can think of is the video produced by her grandfather detailing the adventures of Kendall as an eight-year old weather girl. Mom and dad have traveled the country with our girls, giving them opportunities that so many other do not get. More than anything they gave the girls the same examples of how to live and where to find peace that my grandparents gave me.
I look at the photos of all of these people and I am so thankful for what they have done. Its my turn now. Sunday made clear to me that I am actually a grandparent.
Someday Scott will have a keepsake box, probably a digital one. He will not remember a Sunday afternoon when a family gathered with him as its new center. But Sunday’s photos will be at the start of a story. Lord willing, those pictures will conjure the aroma of M’Lissa’s cookies and more pleasant fall afternoons listening to me ramble about who knows what. If that is where life hardens and keeps me in place, it is a pretty good place to be. If I have been paying attention, I should know how to do this.