I've been thinking about my grandparents a lot lately. Not in any meaningful, deep way. Or, rather, little incidents piling up have made me stop and think more profoundly about my experiences growing up.
Cole has taken a shine to Christmas music. In the car. On his CD player for naps and bedtime. He's already chosen a few favorite songs and I have to say I appreciate his tastes. (After all, this is the same kid who listened to Elvis' Greatest Hits for probably a solid year.) His first Christmas favorite was Bing Crosby's version of "Jingle Bells" with the Andrews Sisters. Classic. We learned about syncopation, jazz, rests in music.
But his new favorite--without any pushing by me--is "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." Which is a family in-joke because of Christmas Eve sing-a-longs I used to do standing on the hearth of my grandmother's wood-burning stove. She loved it. Or maybe she loved that I loved it? I dunno. At bedtime, he asks me to stay with him in his bed for several songs and wants me to skip ahead to "Grandma" then I turn it back to the beginning of the album before I leave. So as I lay there in the dark with my son, his flashlight glowing in my face, listening to my own beloved holiday tune that is now his innocently-chosen interest, I find the weird kismet pulling it together to be powerful.
This time of year is especially...strange...because November was also the month of a family tragedy where we lost that same grandmother and my young cousin (who was about Cole's age) in a car accident during my senior year of high school. And, at the same time, some of my favorite memories of both sets of grandparents happened this time of year over the course of my childhood. So they stir together in a big emotional pot.
The (classic?) movie Karate Kid was on tv the other day while I was trying to get Leda to sleep in the afternoon. Firstly, it holds up very well despite its age and the era when it was made. But, secondly, it reminded me of the time my grandparents--both of them--took me to see one of the sequels. In the theater. It was probably the only time I can recall any of my grandparents taking me to a movie in the theater. The only other burned-in memory is a trip to see Follow That Bird. Weird how memory works.
So there I am, the kind of little boy who really had no business being interested in karate movies. But it was the 1980's. I have no idea what made them want to take me--or give in to my begging as it probably was. I remember the "violence" being so bad that my grandmother walked out about halfway through the movie to wait in the car. I use quotes because anybody who has seen the Karate Kid movies knows how wholesome we'd consider them today. But my grandmother was absolutely disgusted. Which left my grandfather staying behind to sit with me until it was over. We'd gone in the afternoon and I remember walking out into the bright sun in the parking lot. I have no idea what my grandfather thought of the Karate Kid franchise. He wasn't that kind of guy. He'd let you have an earful about various and numerous topics. I carry on that family tradition well and get it honestly from the males of both sides.
I suppose it's all very Proustian, grandparents. It reminds me of a book review on NPR I heard several years ago that was essentially just the author's memories of the family farm growing up. Mostly centered around the dinner table and especially holiday meals. Food and memory. I'm a coffee drinker today because of my grandparents. I'm planning on making my grandmother's special cutout cookies in the coming month. Sans military green frosting on the reindeer...another family in-joke from a particularly bad batch.
One set of grandparents had a front closet that smelled horribly of mothballs. The other had a rotting old wooden boat propped up against the side of their garage. On the surface, neither of these would seem to be noteworthy. But add in a coat that got you through high school still smelling of their house or a stick with a homemade pirate flag and you have the makings of the places people go in their most inner self to be happy.
As I lay in the dark room with Cole some of these nights, I wonder what his most-cherished memories will become two decades from now. Right now, he has a fondness for Trader Joe's maple cereal and Leda is obsessed with a British stop-motion tv series with no dialogue (Shaun The Sheep, for those curious). We usually indulge them. Not because we want to spoil them. But because they have a right to their own list of favorite things from childhood.