From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul


We fashion children’s values one story at a time, one experience at a time. Knowing this, it’s my choice, while I’m still around, to spend the time with them that I can and not leave it to chance or television to teach them what’s important.

Violet George

She’d heard it once too often—or so she thought. Your teenage daughter rolled her eyes as you launched into that story about when you were little. Now her little daughter sits on your lap and seems to actually want to hear the story! That’s one of the magic moments of being a grandparent. In fact, sometimes you are allies “against” that intervening generation. Those stories you tell are the repository of your family’s history, your family’s values and beliefs. Without you and your stories, families would be cast adrift, not knowing anything about themselves that would make them feel special, unique, valuable. Those stories allow each family member to become part of something bigger than themselves—a tradition. So, even if your children still roll their eyes as you begin yet another story, persevere! Tell that story!

For centuries, people of all faiths often wrote two wills: one, a “real-estate” will, which detailed how someone’s tangible goods and properties would be divided, and the second, an “ethical” or “spiritual” will, which discussed the beliefs, traditions, rituals, practices and family values that person wanted to impart to those left behind.

Spiritual wills from medieval times often ran forty or fifty pages, filled with the minutiae of everyday life and with exhortations to pray daily for the soul of the departed.

In today’s world, we are more concerned with the well-being of our families and the continuance of the ethnic, religious and familial heritage, which we wish to pass on to them.

So many times we’ve heard regret, after the passing of a family member, that we “didn’t ask them more about our family background, about our family tree.” We need to capture those sweet stories, those family treasures, now, while we have a chance.

We’ve made it a practice in our families to videotape family members telling stories about family history. We discovered that they loved telling those old stories with great relish, often revealing aspects of themselves we had never known. Their storytelling reconnected us and reminded us of the value of our whole family and the many treasures hidden in their history.

Grandparents are the axle of the wheel of the family. So many people have told us of grandparents around whom their family seemed to coalesce: No holiday was complete unless the family gathered at the grandparents’ home. And many told us of missing grandparents and how, in their absence, the family struggled to find its center. For many families, grandparents are the “true North” by which the family’s moral compass finds its direction: We expect that our grandparents represent the values we believe are most lasting, most dear and most dependable.

Grandparents are alive and well in America. They are allies for grandchildren and have the time to really pay attention to little ones’ concerns. They provide child care that enables their sons and daughters to work to support their growing families. We had the opportunity to meet or hear about some really remarkable grandparents—for example, the Rodeo Grandmas of Ellensburg, Washington. These four ladies, aged sixty-five to eighty-nine, ride and rope and yodel their way into people’s hearts all over the West. During our research, we heard of Grandma Bonnie, the center of the Longaberger family, famous for their handmade baskets sold all over the world. It is her example, her values, the lessons about quality, self-reliance, building good relationships and building humor into every day that helped make it possible for her son, Dave Longaberger, to create a billion-dollar company and for her grandchildren to continue to build its success.

As we put this book together, reading the stories about countless grandparents, we found that children and grandchildren wrote about the values, the experiences, the humor and wisdom, the courage and surprising resilience of their grandparents. They did not write us about the size of their inheritance checks, or the estates of land and buildings and furniture that they had received. Instead, it was the humanness, the insights, the modeling of living by one’s values that filled their letters to us. Grandparents and grandchildren wrote of sweet experiences, of treasured moments, of key events that represented a summation of all that their family meant to them.

In preparing for this book, we read each story with grandmas’ and grandpas’ eyes and hearts. We were touched and enlightened by stories that opened up pictures in our minds of loyalty, honor, faith and the keeping of life’s commitments. We were inspired by stories of quiet courage and wisdom acquired through toil and struggle. We were moved by stories of love expressed through being there, stepping up to the plate and doing what was right.

There are many kinds of grandmas and grandpas, from the kind we read about in stories with Norman Rockwell illustrations to incredibly active grandparents, flying all over, doing jobs they’d never consider retiring from, conquering the Internet and e-mail, and performing essential, irreplaceable services for their communities. Grandparents are living longer, doing more and refusing to accept any limitations. But they still make a difference, one at a time, for their grandchildren. In our highly mobile society, they may live far from their grandkids, but they so often serve as the anchor, the steadying point that helps give meaning and safety to those children’s lives. Some grandparents are courageously parenting their grandchildren— and we celebrate them.

Join us in celebrating grandparenthood through the power of a story. Let each story touch your heart, tickle your funny bone and open new topics to talk about in your family. Let these stories be the start of your own storytelling with your children and grandchildren.

Read them, savor them, one at a time. Read them aloud to family and others you love. And then pause and tell your own stories, one at a time.

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