DIFFERENT ROLES FOR GRANDPARENTS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My grandparents (my mother’s parents) were always a big part of my life. When I was very young, they moved across the street from me and stayed there for the rest of their lives.

My grandmother and grandfather were very different people. They epitomized two of the roles that grandparents can play in their grandchildrens’ lives. One was the playmate and one was the confidante.

Grandma and Grandpa with me at around two

My grandmother wasn’t great with babies or young children. That’s where my grandfather excelled. I remember him carrying me around on a pillow. And telling me stories. But most of all, my grandpa took me places and did things with me. During the school year, which I spent in New York City, he took me to playgrounds and to Central Park, which had a zoo, a pond, a skating rink and a carousel. Every Sunday we went to the Museum of Natural History, which I love to this day.

In the summers, which we spent in the woods of Connecticut, we did outdoorsy activities. We dug for worms and used them to go fishing on our pond, we picked grapes and berries, we caught frogs, explored the woods, canoed, played with my various pets and did gardening together.

When I got older, he would talk to me about American history. He came from Russia but prided himself in knowing endless trivia about all the presidents of the United States. Fascinating stuff.

My Grandparents when I was around 10

At some point, around nine or 10 years old, I started to outgrow these activities, and grandpa. I was no longer impressed that he could recite all the presidents in order. I began to gravitate to my slightly agorophobic grandmother. I started to spend more time with her. She cooked with me, taught me to knit and crochet and played cards with me. I still have the clothes she made for my dolls.

But mostly we talked. She had been a controlling, sometimes destructive mother to my mom. With me she was wonderful. She was great fun to talk to and she had a wicked sense of humor, including about herself. She was totally involved in every detail of my life. She knew about my friends and teachers and advised me on how to handle difficult situations. She was very wise and gave great advice.It infuriated me, but she was always right about my friends. She always knew which ones I could trust and which ones would screw me. She had an uncanny sense about character. She tried to warn me that my mom was a narcissist but I wasn’t ready to hear that for many years. I didn’t realize she was right until long after she was gone.

My Grandparents when I was in my late teens, early twenties

From the time I was in grade school, till I went away to law school at 22, I talked to my grandmother every day. After that we still spoke regularly until her death when I was 27 and she was 88.

The sad thing is that as I got closer to me grandmother, I left my grandfather in the dust. We didn’t know how to relate to each other any more. For example, Grandma followed the news religiously and we loved to discuss politics and current events. She was a liberal Democrat, like I was. In contrast, my grandfather had voted for Herbert Hoover and was a life long Republican. He only followed the Jewish newspaper and the Temple newsletter and couldn’t really talk about what was going on in the world.

I wish I had found a way to include him in my life more. That is one of the things I regret most in my life. Grandpa died when I was 22.

Grandma and me after grandpa died. She was around 87.

There’s one story about my mismatched grandparents that I have to tell. As I mentioned, they were at opposite ends of the spectrum politically. They were also miles apart in what they liked to do and what they liked to watch on television. Grandpa was a Lawrence Welch kind of guy. He wanted to watch ladies in feathers dancing while bubbles were blown into the air. Grandma followed all the news and interview shows and liked the equivalent of PBS programming.

One night they were fighting, as usual, over what to watch on TV. I voted with Grandma and Grandpa left the room to go to the other television set. After close to 60 years of marriage, Grandma sighed and said “Oy! He’s just not my type!”

They may not have been good for each other, but they were both wonderful to and for me, each in his or her own way.

7 thoughts on “DIFFERENT ROLES FOR GRANDPARENTS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

    • They really didn’t get along well at all! They had developed a codependency by the time I knew them. But they were really not suited for each other. In terms of interests, temperament, political views, even emotionally. But they were terrific grandparents!

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  1. I think on some level, we could all say that about our “other.” But even while complaining about them, I love the differences. We’ve been married 26 years with a lot of years before getting married and I’m still finding out new things.

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    • I got a first hand view of what marriage is like between people who are not suited for each other. I sort of learned what not to do in marriage from them. They had fought all the time when they were younger. By the time I knew them, they were just used to each other and dependent on one another. I felt affection but no real love there as I felt between my parents.

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      • This is my third marriage. I get that. I suspect that Garry and I were ready for each other by the time we married. I don’t know if it would have worked out the same if we had been married when we were both much younger. It’s hard to know. Second guesses are always accurate; first ones not so much.

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  2. Another family story that resonates, Ellin. My maternal Gramps became my surrogate Dad when I made my debut in 1942. My Father, an Army Sgt, was serving overseas and would see action in the Battle of the Bulge. Gramps, a Barbados native, was my Father figure, telling me stories of his life, service as a sailor in the Danish Navy in WW1 and spinning wonderful stories that stay with me all these years later.

    My paternal Grandmother looked like someone out of “Mrs. Miniver” with her long Gray, red hair in braids, reaching down to her waist. She spoke very genteely. She was very proper. I behaved very proper in her company. Those were the days when I had curly red hair and was dressed properly in a short pants suit and an eton cap. Quite proper!

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