Although we had very little in common, I loved spending time with my grandfather. I lived in a suburb of Ohio. Grandpa lived in Paris — Idaho. My school had more people than his town.
I liked pop music, television, reading and sports. My grandpa’s world consisted of cattle, horses, hay and farming equipment. We did not get to spend much time together. Yet, I treasured each opportunity.
According to www.helpguide.org, “Grandparents have the benefit of interacting on a level that is once removed from the day-to-day responsibilities of parents. This can make it easier to develop a close bond with grandchildren.”
As an adolescent, I knew my parents weren’t cool. However, for some reason it did not matter whether grandpa was cool. If my parents asked me to get out of bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to do some chore, I complained and ranted. If my grandpa woke me at 5 a.m. to help him milk cows in a cold barn, I went willingly.
Grandpa and I never did any fun or recreational activities together. Yet, whatever task he was doing he would let me tag along. If he was fixing a tractor, I could watch and hand him tools. If he was doctoring an injured animal, I was by his side. If he was feeding hay to some cattle in a distant field, I would push the hay bales off the back of the trailer to the cows that followed along.
Through my grandfather’s example, I learned many lessons as I work to establish strong relationships with my own grandchildren.
My grandpa treated me with respect
He talked to me like I was a person, not a child. If I asked a question, he provided the real explanation — not merely a simplified answer he thought I would accept.
He showed me new things
My grandpa’s world was completely different from my normal life. Exposing me to things that were new and different wasn’t difficult. Today, when my grandchildren visit, I try to introduce them to experiences they don’t have at home. We might go swimming in a lake. Perhaps, we’ll look for lizards in the desert. Maybe we’ll plant seeds in a garden bed.
We still do things that are familiar to them and that I know they will enjoy. But, I make an effort to steer them toward new activities.
He let me try
Grandpa let me do things my parents would not. He always supervised and made sure it was safe. He took me to shoot guns. He showed me how to sit on a stool and milk a cow. When I wanted to drive his big flatbed truck, we went out to a big open field, and he put me behind the wheel. It was quickly apparent that I wasn’t tall enough to reach the pedals, or strong enough to turn the steering wheel. Instead of telling me I was too little, he allowed me to discover it for myself.
My grandpa grew up without a furnace or television. He knew my mom when she was a young girl. He could teach me things about my family that no one else could.
Patricia H. Holmes, of the Ohio State University Extension service, wrote that grandparents can act as family historians by sharing stories of the past. “These stories may be about relatives, important events, family traditions, the grandparent's own childhood or the grandchild's parent growing up. As the stories of the family are passed on, the grandchild gains a positive image of aging and his place within the family. Grandparents and their stories can be the ‘glue’ which keeps the family together and contributes to family identity.”
He spent time with me
Because my grandpa lived 2,000 miles away, it was usually a year or more between visits. During those visits, he let me join in whatever he was doing. We rounded up cows. We baled hay. We fixed broken fences. I’m sure my presence and assistance often meant that grandpa would only accomplish a fraction of what he needed to do. But, he never acted as if I were in the way or slowing him down.
He was generous
My grandpa did not have much when it came to material possessions. Yet, every time I visited he bought me a new cowboy hat. As I got older, I learned I had to be cautious. If I expressed admiration for his fishing rod, his knife or his belt, he would hand it to me and tell me it was mine.
He loved me
My grandpa could be gruff and crotchety. But, he was always happy to see me. When I turned 19 and went to Iceland for two years to do missionary work for my church, he wrote me a handful of letters. He only attended three years of school. I know it was a time-consuming and difficult process for him to sit at his kitchen table and scratch those words onto paper. I don’t remember what he wrote, but I can picture him sitting there writing to me when he probably needed to be working in the barn.
Today, as I strive to forge family bonds with my grandchildren, I remember the lessons from my grandfather. I don’t need to know how to play the latest video game or like the same music. I just need to love my grandchildren and spend meaningful time with them.