My personality is an odd mix of each of my grandparents’ personalities and temperaments. Most of my family has an overwhelmingly dominant temper that is either short and hot or slow to anger but decisively impatient. I am at neither end of the spectrum, and my temperament changes depending on the situation. There is not much surprise to be found in this, because I was a very observant and analytical child who picked up on cause and effect that each personality had on the individuals’ lives and those around them. I hated stress and tension and did my best to find a medium between them all.
There was dysfunction in the family growing up that has caused all five siblings (three full and two half) lifelong effects. I’m not going to delve into that in this post due to such complicated dynamics, but it definitely had an impact on family relationships and my ability to trust and feel comfortable within the family. I spent much of my childhood and adolescence feeling like the odd one out, because I was so different from my brother and sisters. They didn’t understand me, and my parents didn’t know how to handle my interests or understand why they were literally my life and what drove me to pursue them relentlessly, shattering through impossibility like the word didn’t exist for me. In a family filled with very tactile people, I was extremely abstract and ruled by emotion and intense obsession with learning. The combination of being alone in my family and living through chaos and tumult often left me off on the sidelines, alienated, detached, and absorbed in the world I created to find some semblance of stability.
I feel that my grandparents sensed my being different and they tried the best they could to accommodate it and direct it. Where siblings and parents were indifferent or disinterested, my grandparents would show excitement or try to learn what was going on in my head so they could relate to me. With that came support, guidance, and patience in everything I did, even though at the time, it most likely made no sense to them. My grandparents become my anchor early on and I spent much of my school breaks with them. As each one passed away, I slowly felt displaced and despaired over losing them. There is still pain in my heart from missing them that gets so bad some days I can barely breathe. They were the center of my universe and had so much influence and impact on my life that I often speak of them “raising me” even though I lived with my father and stepmother growing up. It isn’t meant to disassociate from or insult my parents in any way; rather, it’s a very deliberate way of showing the enormous reach my grandparents had in my life – and my gratitude for the nurturing and guidance they offered up to me without making me feel like I was indebted to them. To be likened to them in any way is the best compliment anyone could give me. To have been loved by them is the greatest gift I could have ever received. And losing them was to feel a piece of myself die with them, slowly as each one fell ill and left this world with me reeling in it alone.
My maternal grandfather was pretty much straight out the gate intolerant of disobedience and disrespect. He told you something once and expected you to listen, and if and when you did not, you were immediately and decisively corrected – not cruelly or abusively, but he let you know what he wouldn’t stand for. In many ways, his rigidity came from his upbringing. His father passed away, forcing his mother to remarry because she could afford to care for all the children – several of who ended up being adopted by family members to lessen the burden. My great-grandmother could be a difficult personality to handle, and the impact of growing up with little money and several moves on top of it made some of the siblings harsh as well. My grandfather was the least so, but he learned a certain amount of reservation and hesitancy that, when combined with his very black-and-white view of the world, made him appear uncaring or distant even though that was not who he really was. When you grow up struggling sometimes the coping mechanisms become so ingrained in your being, rooting them out is a battle that cannot be won.
My maternal grandmother had the same expectations as my grandfather, but with her you had more than one chance; if you persisted in rubbing her the wrong way, she had a strangely sarcastic yet gentle tone in her voice, and then she would stand there and look at you in such a way that you knew it was time to stop. I never once witnessed her go beyond this point, but I could sense that she, too, would reach a point very quickly where her correction of you would be just as decisive as my grandfather if you pushed her limits. Even so, they were very loving and protecting of their grandchildren. They both had a quirky, playfully mischievous sense of humor, and the house would often be filled with laughter at their teasing and my grandfather’s pranks.
When it came to their relationship, they were very private and rarely displayed measurable amounts of affection in front of us. It was rare enough that when we would catch them lovingly joking with each other, we would get excited, because there was a light in their eyes that betrayed appearances. And we always wished we had seen it more. Even though they were generally reserved, I have no doubts that they had a strong bond and reciprocated respect and love for each other. Their marriage endured the tragic death of my uncle just barely out of high school, my grandfather’s subsequent hospitalization from despair of losing his only son, his alcoholism that almost tore the family apart, my grandmother’s mystery illness that no one ever talked about, and more. Years later when his wife passed, my grandfather was so distraught that he gave up. When he passed not six months after my grandmother, he was deep in depression and had stopped sleeping in their room because his mind was haunted by her. He tried desperately to escape her memory that permeated every square inch of their house yet yearned for her at the same time. My grandmother was his world, and when he lost her, his heart shattered, and we lost him even before he passed away. Some heartaches don’t heal.
My paternal grandparents were more subtle and seemed to balance and lessen the stricter personalities of my mother’s parents. They communicated very openly about deeply personal things they endured or witnessed, and although not overly sensitive, there was no shortage of affection in their house. Both lived full, busy lives that impacted so many others enough to the point that my brother, sister, and I still have people we don’t even remember coming up to us to tell us how much they loved and adored and respected my grandparents and why.
My grandfather had a pilot’s license and trained pilots during WWII, owned his own motorcycle sales and repair business in addition to running the family’s dairy farm, worked on bridge construction, and also served as Justice of the Peace for many years. He was a methodical, patient sort who let you know what was expected of you up front and also informed you of consequences for going against his expectations, but he never was strict and immediate in giving out punishment because he wanted you to deduce not only what was right and wrong but also why it wrong and how it affected others. If you could not, he would explain how things would affect you, and why it was important to have restrictions and penalties for disobeying. His patience only broke when being nagged and hounded incessantly; he did not like to be rushed and had no tolerance for being pushed into anything before he was ready. My grandfather also had a mischievous sense of humor and loved to tell us colorful stories about his life before we came into it.
He adored his wife, and from what I learned about her during the years I was blessed to have her in my life, I have no doubt as to why. My grandmother was a miraculously patient woman who worried about everyone else’s well-being before her own. She was a teacher because she loved children, and she would tell me years after retiring how she loved watching them respond to her as she opened their developing minds to new things. There was a great care infused in her teaching, both in regards to her students (who adored her), and her own family. I was a curious child with an insatiable thirst to learn, and I did what I had to do in order to fully understand everything I learned. Usually this involved in the figurative (okay, sometimes physical) dismantling of a thing, even if it meant it had to be ripped open, emptied, turned inside out and upside down in my inspection. Sometimes, it unfortunately involved electronics and the like. Generally I was able to reassemble the things I had taken apart. Sometimes…. well, sometimes it was a mess. My grandmother appreciated and respected my love of research and never failed to remind me it was of urgent import to never believe things solely because people said it was so. She always urged me to look at everything on my own so I could prove or disprove each thing to my own satisfaction. My gram was a thinking, vital, intelligent, loving woman, and taught me how to be the same.
There was an air of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and genuine love that surrounded her everywhere she went, and she tried her best to share that with everyone she came in contact with – strangers or not. I rarely saw her lose her temper or become impatient with anyone even under the most trying circumstances. She was willing and preferred to compromise before ever seeking her own interests. I never saw her be cruel, malicious, or hurtful to anyone, and when she saw others do this to people around her, she would not hesitate to reach out to the person who was hurt so she could comfort them – and she always scolded the offender. Gram did not have a callous to others’ suffering and never turned anyone away if she had it in her to help. Somehow, she always seemed to have it in her.
All of my grandparents were respectful of others even when they did not approve of their choices or lifestyles. Being rude and hurtful to anyone was simply not an option for them, and by extension, was not an option for any of us either. They were generous even when they did not have a lot, and they taught us to have appreciation for others when they do things for us and we were expected to show it by not only words but small gestures in return. Cards and handwritten letters were to be used on a regular basis. They told me once when I asked why my grandmothers had so much stationary and cards on-hand to think about how it feels to only receive bills, etc in the mail, to think about how the person would feel to see someone cared enough about them that they stopped to take the time to sit down and write out a note or letter and drop it in the mail. Being personal and thinking of others was ingrained in us from the time we were able to logically understand. Nothing was ever to just be business.
I spent a lot of time around all of my grandparents growing up; they were all the center of the family. Our lives revolved around and rarely excluded them from anything. Their influence over me was far-reaching, and there are very distinctive pieces of each of them in me, including their temperaments. Overall, my personality is closest to my father’s mother, and I believe this to be because in the midst of so much chaos, she more than anyone took the time to show me that it’s okay to be different, that it’s okay to love, and that it’s a gift to use everything I have to become the best version of myself I could. She told me to never forget how I feel when people knowingly hurt me, to never forget how it feels to be on the outside, cast off, disassociated, and left out, to never forget how it feels to need help and never have, to never forget how it feels to have a witness to being harmed and to have that person turn away in refusal to acknowledge my suffering. And then she told me to never walk away from someone enduring any of those things without doing anything I could to alleviate their burdens. She told me I would never lose anything even if I gave all I could to help someone else get up when they fall, because if it was me in the situation, I would hope anyone would do the same for me.
There have been many dark periods in my life, but even now in their absence, I can hear them repeating their advice to me over and again, guiding me through what so many tell me is insurmountable. They taught me to believe that succeeding and over-coming struggle and suffering is never impossible. The darkness may last longer than I’d like, but the light always comes. And so I do my best to live my life as they did. To help when needed, to listen, to protect, to give, to share, to love, to guide, to support. This was their gift to me, and as it turns out, this gift was better and more profound that any other thing has ever been. And because I have been blessed, I have made it my desire, my will, and my life to share that blessing with everyone else I come into contact with.
Why? Because life is hard enough without having additional hardships caused in front of other not willing to step in show love and kindness. Their gift to me shall be my gift to you.