I know why Grandmas always talk about the past. It is because the past is gone and their grandchildren won’t know about it if they don’t talk about it. Grandmas also know that the past has a million little fairy-like doors. Each door opens by turning a teeny, tiny knob the size of a head of a pin. The knob is a sudden thought. Each time you open a door, a lesson pops out. Just like a pop-out book. Sometimes you have to step back so it doesn’t hit you in the nose. The lesson might be happy, sad, horrible, wonderful, startling, dazzling or so profound that you try to push the door closed while its edges are caught.
It used to be that people didn’t have paper and pencils to record their lives. Because that was a long time ago, children don’t believe it when you say it. History and family connections had to be memorized and recited over and over and over and passed along to little ones who memorized the same things and recited them over and over and over. Sometimes little people don’t even know they are listening to something important. Down the road, at the right moment, they just might remember. The instinct to preserve is very strong in Grandmas as they get older. They know that if they don’t tell things and point out things and write down things, all of their hard work and sacrifice and joy will be lost to the next generation. That is why Grandmas say things like:
We didn’t have those when I was little. We didn’t talk to our mothers like that.
We ate whatever was put in front of us. We always said please and thank-you.
We always wore coats and hats. We came home on time.
We made our own clothes. We had chores.
We only ate out now and then. We didn’t use words like that.
We helped shovel the snow. We dug dandelions.
We walked to school. We walked everywhere.
We had a garden. We put fruit in bottles.
We didn’t throw much away.
We turned off the lights when we left a room.
Thus, these statements combined with similar statements from the next generation make more little doors. Behind each door is a new lesson for a different time. But, when people look back, they will see that what is behind each little door is fundamentally the same. Some things truly never change.
Kindness, Thrift, Faith, Work, Balance, Duty, Respect, Family.
A Grandma’s own children don’t want to hear many of the stories any more. They don’t realize that when I overhear them talking to their own children, they are doing exactly what Grandmas do. Passing things along. Suddenly my efforts in their childhoods seem worth trying on their own children. Suddenly they see value in going to bed early. Reading instead of gaming. Cleaning up after themselves so they can find things. Being nice to their siblings. Having fewer things. Cleaning their plates. Learning to write a proper letter. Knowing how to mail something. Writing in cursive. Doing chores without being told. Trying to sit still in church. Being polite. Being kind. Calling their mother just to say hello.
There is an oft-quoted saying that when an older person dies, so dies a library. When my grandmother Clara died, so died her knowledge of some very useful aspects of caring for the sick without a doctor . . . of how she fixed everything when nothing could be replaced and all of the wonderful spiritual experiences she had in her life which she passed along orally but didn’t often write down.
I could go on. Perhaps people think Grandmas do. Go on, I mean. When my daughters are Grandmas I suspect they might open those little doors as I did, searching for solutions and comfort and inspiration in the lives of those who have gone on before them. Hoping something will pop right out of a teeny, tiny, forgotten door and hit them right in the nose with a solution to a problem or provide comfort when there is need.
These are just some of the reasons why Grandmas talk about the past and do it with such light in their eyes.