Please note that this is a series. If you haven’t read Part One and Part Two, please click on the “My Life” page at the top and dig in!
Note: You may want to have a coffee ready. Or chardonnay. Depending on the time of day of course…
Meemo and Grandjack have always been the stabilizing force behind a family filled with mostly outgoing personalities and, as is often the case in a family with over 30 members, the normal “life drama” that is typical in groups of this size.
All because two people fell in love.
They met in high school in the 1940’s. When I asked them about the first time they saw each other, the conversation went like this:
Grandjack: We were in the gym at the high school and I heard thumping on the floor and saw Mariam walking around with her leg braces on. (Meemo is a polio survivor) Grandjack starts to laugh his infectious laugh.
Meemo: Jack, you’re really one to be laughing – you had the worse case of acne I had ever seen!
Not exactly the romantic, “dream-weaver” image I had created in my mind of how they met.
Grandjack continued to laugh. At himself. This is just how he was.
Though it isn’t the way I had imagined the story would go, it’s real. And I love it. I can almost feel myself sitting in the hot, sweaty gym in the midwestern high school and watching my grandmother, who was beautiful despite the leg braces and my grandfather, who was handsome despite the acne. I imagine sparks flew.
The tale of a 59 year marriage started in that sweaty gym.
Their love story is one of commitment – to each other, to God, to their children. They remembered to laugh. And 59 years in, they continued to laugh.
My mother was the oldest of their four children. Grandjack liked to tell the story of how, as a budding saxophonist in a local “swing” band, he had to sell his beloved sax to purchase milk for my mother. No guilt or anything – her existence simply kept him from becoming the next Charlie Parker, but at least she had milk.
Joking aside, this is exactly the kind of man my Grandjack always was – he did what was necessary first. Everything else was just a bonus.
He had a family. He was responsible. He would provide.
And provide well. He was a doctor in a small community in which he used to make house calls. He still had a leather medical bag that looked like it waltzed right out of a Norman Rockwell painting at the time of his death in 2007. He also invested wisely in land and continues to take care of our family even in death.
My elementary years are pickled with wonderful memories of my beloved grandparents that lived only five minutes from my home. The days spent swimming in their pool. The golf cart rides to the Dairy Queen for “Banana Split” parties (not helping, of course, the fact that I wore Pretty Plus sizes. Or maybe I wore Pretty Plus sizes because of the “Banana Split” parties?). The days I was too sick to go to school but my mother had to teach and Meemo would make me a “sick bed” complete with the butterfly blanket, drinks with a straw and as much TV as I wanted to watch. The Frosted Mini-Wheats Grandjack hoarded and did not like to share with the grandchildren.
The list goes on.
They were a beacon of light during a dark time. The cactus in the desert. Grandjack was the only stable male figure that was consistently always present in my life until his death.
He was gentle, kind, soft-spoken. He often allowed his sick patients with low funds to pay him through bartering – someone was always sewing for them or providing eggs as a debt to his “free medical” treatments. He never lost sight of why he became a doctor in the first place.
He did it all – family medicine, obstetrics (he delivered many of the babies in town), and pediatrics – it’s just how it was back then. Far, far more simple than now.
In fact, I am certain my Grandjack would be appalled by the current state of medicine. He would be frightened by the power of insurance companies and the legalities of liability. The threat of a lawsuit would have forced his house calls to end. He no longer would have been able to barter with the farmer whose child had strep throat because he had to cover his tracks in paperwork and bartering is now illegal.
That family would now have to choose between eating a meal or healing their child. And Grandjack couldn’t say “no” to someone who needed care.
I attribute much of my fond memories of childhood to my beloved grandparents. Meemo is still alive and the fond memories are still going strong – for me, yes. But especially for my three children who absolutely, positively adore Meemo and swimming, and riding in the golf cart.
A new generation forming identical memories to my own most precious is alive and well.
Luckily, by the end of fourth grade, my body began to change and I no longer would be considered a Pretty Plus girl.
But then the boys began to notice I had changed.