It could hold eight kids and four hound dogs
And a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn’t get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
On Grandma’s feather bed”

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Each week as I get myself into the mood for writing my blog posts, I sit and listen to a couple of music selections to summon the muse’s juice, the creative flow…

I’ll listen to some beautiful guitar music like Tommy Emmanuelle‘s Angelina, or Lady Antebellum‘s harmonic, banjo-laced Bartender, or John Denver‘s joyously enthusiastic Grandma’s Feather Bed.

This last song brought me around to thinking about grandparents, something  – sadly – I know little of.

Throughout my life when I’ve visited my grandparents, it’s been in a place of serene beauty and sleepy calmness.

You and I call it a cemetery.

Because of this, my life has lacked some of the colour that paints beauty on the canvas of our souls. I never snickered with my grandmother, or held a nail to assist my granddad build a birdhouse.

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While the concentric genealogy rings that radiate out from my grandparents are amazingly large and convoluted – there are descendants scattered in all directions like dandelion fluff in the wind – my own connection to them surprisingly feels real and flesh-like and personal like a private diary entry.

Weathered photos I view now bring the stillness and silence to life. These were real people… these were “my” real people.

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My Mom (bottom, centre) between her parents (my grandparents Maggie and Will) and “watermelon brothers” Lloyd and Clarence

Aside from one or two short early childhood visits I had from my paternal grandmother, Harriett, I never looked up at the face, heard the voice, or understood the demeanour of any of my grandparents.

I never played on Grandma’s feather bed.

All of my grandparents, except Harriett, were long passed by the time I arrived on the scene, so I never knew what I missed.

I never sat at the knee of my Granddad while he shared stories, or tales of wisdom gathered from a lifetime of joys and loves.  Never did I listen to the yarns of his hardships and struggles, those hard-earned everyday lessons that carry us over the stormy seas.

The only sense of grandparenthood I “enjoyed” was the embarrassment I felt when school chums errantly thought my parents – when they attended school functions –  WERE my grandparents. Yes, my mother was 45 and my Dad 50 when I was born, a more natural grandparent age. I was mortified. A child’s primeval thoughts.

I know my predecessors lived interesting but challenging lives. My grandparents lived through two World Wars and the Dirty Thirties, the Great Depression.

They survived a good portion of their lives in an era with little or no antibiotic therapy for infectious disease, no medications to manage pain effectively, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no cars or airplanes, widespread child labour, high maternal and infant mortality, no voting or financial rights for women.

And as they aged, no doubt they lamented the passing of “the good ole days”.

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I never heard their stories in their own voices,  and unfortunately, stories about them weren’t shared much by my own parents, at least in my early recollection.

In the foreword to a family history book I edited and produced for a reunion in 2000, I wrote:

I regret that I was so young when my parents passed on, and that I wasn’t able to ask them all the questions that I’m now overflowing with. I want to know so desperately about the lives they led and the people they knew. I want to know about their parents and grandparents, and who they were as well.

I am frustrated that I, as children do, tuned out when they spoke of the days of their past, their memories and stories. They lived in another world and another time, and much of what they said and did is now gone from us all.

Today, I live with my own memories and I frequently “walk” through them, escaping to yesterday. The feel of the hardwood floors, the warmth of an open fireplace, the smell of cookies baking. These memories give me comfort because they are all I have of those days and my parents and my family at that time in our past. All of us live and “walk” through our memories of other times and places and receive comfort at times…

… I cannot turn the clock back, sit in a chair and make my grandmother or my mother be here with me and tell me the stories and memories that were important to them, now that I’m mature enough to sit and listen.

And yet, I still draw breath and I can draw together the pieces that I can find, add to that what I can recall as well as the insight and views of others who can remember, and give to those generations to come a feeling of their own past and a connection to it.”

Now, I don’t want to turn this post into a lecture at you, so let’s call it… an encouragement… yes, a signal or call to action. Sound the bugle!

If you have a parent or grandparent in your orbit with an active heartbeat, and still has a firm connection to their mental capacity… well… today is a good day to sit and have them share the moments of their past days with you. It can start with a simple question such as, “Who was your best friend as a kid Grampa/Dad?

Now, if they go rogue and unexpectedly veer off into uninhibited talk about their early sexual escapades (everyone has lurid scraps in their past!), try gently shifting the topic into an area such as gardening or canning peaches.

Or, if you’re really brave and have a strong stomach, well, dive right in, listen carefully and see if your own sexual deviances originate in an errant gene you picked up like a virulent bug.

You will learn about them and you will learn about you.

The passing of time brings change. It’s very foreign to me, but at the time of my Mom’s Mom’s passing, her casketed body was kept in the front room of the house for visitation of friends, neighbours, and family, and the funeral service was conducted there in the farmhouse in Hillsburg, Ontario.

Sure, different eras, but unchanged is the perennial belief in possibility… our grandparents were birthed and experienced their own childhoods clothed in a mantle of wonder and fascination, believing in the possible yet to come in their lives.

They too, like us, looked with excitement, and a little fear, toward future advancements and a world they knew was coming but couldn’t even imagine.

Hopefully they learned some lessons about the rhythm of life and living while snuggled safely under the blankets of their own Grandma’s feather bed.

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