JFK, 9-11, or Bacon and Butter

Depending on how old we are, we all have those “where were we” moments: the stock market crash of 1929, attack on Pearl Harbor, dropping of the atomic bombs, assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, the first men on the moon, Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, September 11, etc.

Near the anniversaries, people take some sort of comfort in unpacking their memories of the horrible events: “I was walking to work; on a train coming back from college; on a family vacation; etc.” My memory of Nixon’s resignation was driving home from brunch with my family and on 9-11, getting a call from my mother-in-law and turning on the news.

Horrific events? Yes. Generational hallmarks? Yes. Crucial stories we should all know and learn from? Of course. Most of what we absorb from our elders and their experiences and carry through to our kids? No. Instead, it’s the ordinary stuff from ordinary days that impact us long-term and we carry-forward.

My dad’s parents and siblings lived in Nebraska, and my sister, brother and I traveled there at least once a year. My grandfather and uncles were contractors, and I spent some time “helping out.” It wasn’t long before we all realized that, despite being an accomplished sawdust sweeper, construction wasn’t my gift. And I was given my walking papers promptly at 5 p.m. on the day I stepped in freshly poured cement.

Broom between my legs, I took my ego and ruined tennis shoes and retreated to my grandparents’ house, where I spent hour-after-hour lounging around, quietly playing cards, eating too much of all sort of delicacies, and learning the ins and outs of sausage making and the best and most humane way to butcher a chicken. Skills we should all have…

On a deeper level, though, it was through this time with them that I absorbed their love and affection. Despite freezing my grandfathers cigarettes, wheeling him into the kitchen while napping in his easy chair, and having an-inside/outside water fight through a screen, they were always thrilled (I think) to have us visit. (In fairness, the water fight wasn’t thrilling, and this bratty, pre-teen was almost sent packing.)

I cherished my trips, as it was a time where I felt truly welcomed and comfortable, a feeling I wasn’t used to. I remember secretly thinking that I was my grandparents’ favorite. Years later, I learned that I wasn’t the only grandkid who felt this way, and it was at that moment when I thought “Job well done!” I think all grandkids should feel this way. And this is what I hope to carry through if I ever have grandkids.

My other grandmother and I were particularly close. She moved to our neighborhood in L.A. from Washington D.C., right after my grandfather died a few months before I was born. She lived across the street from my elementary school, so her apartment was a logical stopping-off place going to and from school.

She was quite a storyteller, and even though I didn’t find all of her stories fascinating, she never stopped sharing them. Sometimes I half-listened and mumbled some “uh-huhs” along the way. Other times, I listened intently, as shared stories about attending Washington Senators’ games with a few hundred fans in the stands and of taking the train across-country when she moved to L.A. She was living in DC when JFK was assassinated, but, aside from giving me a book about him, I don’t remember her telling me anything about that horrific day. I hope I didn’t miss something.

My grandmother never learned to drive, but she lived a block from the main drive. Many times we walked up and down Montana Avenue as she ran her errands. She was a closet gourmet, and she taught me the best ways to pick out bacon, steaks and fruits and veggies. We then went back home and she taught me her ways to cook her provisions. I suppose her love of cooking with butter, half-and-half, and bacon fat haven’t always been politically correct. But who can argue with it…

So what’s my point? Spend time with your elders and listen-up. Maybe their stories aren’t always interesting and video games might be more fascinating. But it’s the day-to-day time you spend with them and what you’ll learn and absorb that you’ll cherish and pass along…

2 Responses to JFK, 9-11, or Bacon and Butter
  1. elizabeth
    March 19, 2015 | 3:18 pm

    What a special blog….I too had wonderful memories of the only grandparent I ever knew, my grandmother, who was a colorful, news paper columnist who asked me on one birthday what would I like. I told her a ring with a blue stone and that is what I got and I treasured. We can only hope that our dear grandchildren, have the same sweet memories as you do.

  2. Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
    March 20, 2015 | 5:09 pm

    Thanks Elizabeth for sharing your lovely story!

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