I didn’t see a great deal of my grandparents growing up because my family never lived in close proximity to them. We went to Iowa every other summer and they visited us in California in alternate years. When I was little, it was cause for great celebration. My grandfather smoked Marlboros then and when the house smelled like cigarette smoke it meant they were in town. In my eyes, they were perfect.
It wasn’t until I was a teen-ager that I began to see them as human beings with strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us. Grandma O had buried two husbands and outlived most of her friends. Her loneliness and the difficulties she endured due to aging were depressing and disturbing – something I didn’t want to think about at all when I was 17.
My grandfather Knutsen was a charismatic extrovert who always sang “I’ll take you home with me, Kathleen” when they came to visit us. I adored him so it was hard to reconcile my growing awareness that he hurt my kind grandmother – not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. To his credit, my father never treated my mother with such disdain and he didn’t allow us to disrespect her either.
My children were privileged to grow up in close proximity to their grandparents (and cousins).