Last week the topic of the week in one of my classes was Family, particularly, problems in the family. It was actually a little hard to talk about problems in the family coming right back from my brother's wedding, as everything went so wonderfully. So, instead of starting out with the bad stuff, I talked about the functions of family within society, and I showed this picture. It's one of my favorites from the wedding.
That's my dad and my grandma. Friday afternoon we took a drive up to Mount Bonnell in Austin and walked up a short, but steep and uneven trail to see views of the Colorado River. My grandma turned 80 years old this past month. Her mind is still incredibly sharp, but she is having some stiffness in her joints that is making it a little harder to get around. She was an avid walker, regularly harping on everyone within earshot about how "you need to exercise". Let's just say my grandma is not one to bite her tongue. If there's a bit of advice she feels the need to expound, or a random, sometimes graphic observation or memory, you'll hear it. Usually in the middle of a conversation on a completely different topic.
Tomorrow, my other grandma also turns 80. She was also an avid walker, averaging 3 miles a day in her prime retirement years. On the surface, this grandma is much more reserved and is more concerned with imposing on others, although occasionally she lets a biting comment slip out.
I grew up thinking my grandma's personalities and histories were diametrically opposed. On the surface, they don't have much in common. Growing up, whenever my grandmas saw each other, they mostly just observed each other. Politely, but with some reservations. Most of this boiled down to the fact that one grandma was an outspoken Catholic and a recovered alcoholic. The other was a reserved Protestant teetotaler. For religious women of their generation, this was a big gulf to overcome.
One of the reasons I love photography and scrapbooking is because it gives me a chance to reflect on my life and my family. I like getting all my thoughts and observations down on paper in a creative way. I did a layout a year ago where I talked about my grandmas and how they represent two sides of me. It was inspired by a picture of my grandmas side by side, one in spandex shorts and a tank top and the other in long pants and a turtlenecked sweatshirt. Guess which was which! They always seemed so different to me when I was growing up, but as I've thought about it, they have more in common than I realized. They are both religious and hardworking. They walked for exercise and read avidly. Both took one big trip abroad in retirement (Jerusalem and the UK). They were big into dieting later in life. Both outlived husbands who died of cancer. Both are fairly reserved with their emotions, but clearly loved their children and grandchildren.
I'm so much like both of them. I'm a walker/hiker, an observer, a bit of a critic (a quiet, polite critic though). I am overly concerned with imposing on others, am half teetotaler/half social drinker, a person of faith (however undisciplined right now). But mostly I'm a person who loves my family, however complicated we are at times.
I showed that picture to my class because I believe that the role of family in society, and in our lives, is to care for one another. Families bind us together. That binding together is usually fraught with difficulties and problems, and these problems can become lifelong struggles. But in most cases, the struggle is still worth the trouble because, like it or not, we're all creations of our families. It's like we carry our family members around with us everywhere we go, whether we like it or not. Being away from my family and my extended family more than I've wanted the last few years has made that even more apparent.
One of the most cherished lessons my parents passed down to me is the example they set by caring for their own parents later in life. My in-laws set the same example. I hope I am as lucky to have children who watch after me through the years. My grandma who turns 80 tomorrow has Alzheimer's, and very likely, she won't know she is turning 80 or remember later in the day that my mom visited. But my mom will still celebrate with her. And my other grandma...it wasn't easy to take an 80 year old woman all the way from Michigan to Texas for her grandson's wedding. But my parents did just that and took her out shopping a couple times to get her all new clothes and shoes for the event. For one who doesn't reveal her emotions much, this was a very meaningful experience for my self-proclaimed "unsentimental" grandmother. She told me and my husband that she cried during the ceremony. Amazing. And amazing that I have these two unique women in my life, who are such a part of me, and that they both turned 80 so close to one another. It is a blessing to be able to care for and celebrate with your family.