“Oh, my grandparents died,” you tell people.
You sigh and maybe recall for a moment how nice it was to have older generations in your family.
You remember the birthday cards, gifts and the yelps of glee when you arrived to visit.
But then you’re resigned, right? That’s it, they’re gone. That’s life.
Well, I wanted to let you know there are thousands of grandparents available.
In interviewing dozens of Holocaust survivors, I have found so much more than material for my dissertation. I have found friends and, dare I say, grandparents:
Jacqueline gave me cloth napkins to take to Paris this summer for my picnics on the Seine.
Last week, I received an anonymous donation to support my research and “my happiness.”
Vivianne slapped my hand today as I picked veggies out of her potluck dish. “Use a fork!” she commanded. I told her she was right, but I was born in NY and she in Paris…Americans are savages, I told her. She said “use a fork, anyway.”
Perla, who lost 47 members of her family at age 14, spent 20 minutes consoling me on my parents divorce that happened 20 years ago. Without any hint of irony, she kept saying “That must have been so hard for you at age 12.
They glow when I call. They tell me I’m pretty and smart. They love spending time and they have delicious stories to tell. That’s how I remember my grandparents. They made me feel special even when I had disastrous teeth, couldn’t spell, was overweight and had a terrible haircut.
They can be a dream.
But they’re spectacular in their own right.
Today, Marty talked about surviving 4 concentration camps. Somehow he has a sparkle in his eye even though he watched his mother and sister sent to gas chambers in Auschwitz.
I dare say at 85 he’s actually strikingly handsome. He boasts about his great friends in their 30s. I’m not surprised. He’s a catch!
Things I’ve learned about the elderly:
1. They have paradoxically more and less time than we do. (They have all day, but probably less days.)
2. They have all lost something precious.
3. Their lives didn’t go as planned.
4. They appreciate many things we have not yet come to appreciate.
5. They have seen more change than we have.
6. Many are busier than I am.
7. It’s easy to hang out with them. You don’t have to be charming, they just talk.
8. They are seeing their friends die and/or get sick.
9. Being around younger people enlivens them.
10. Regarding holocaust survivors, at this point I think most would rather tell you their story than receive reparations. Please listen.
11. Every tragic story has some moment of hope.
12. They were once young.
13. They are afraid of losing their ability to move about.
14. They appreciate your time.
15. They’ve beat incredible odds to be alive so long..consider they know something.
I cannot handle all these grandparents alone. There are so many!
Please volunteer your cheeks for pinching whether you’re 20 or 50. It’s a cliche, but you will get far more than you give. Start talking to someone eating alone at a restaurant or riding the metro. Help them with the door and talk to them like people.
You’ll be old too one day…if you’re lucky. How would you like to be treated when old age finds you?