The Grand and the Great Part I: The Grand
Grandparents are irreplaceable. Unfortunately, some folks don’t realize this truth until they no longer have any left of their own but I am not among that shortsighted group. Not all of my grandparents are living but I do have a set of fantastic grand-folks still around. These extraordinary individuals dwell in Mississippi, deep in the heart of the South, making visits difficult but never regrettable. Recently, Jason and I made one or those worthwhile visits.
My grandparents have resided in the same small town of about 6,000 inhabitants for almost all of their lives. When we go to see them in that tiny settlement, we spend most of our hours simply chatting, watching movies, eating delicious Southern food, and playing cards at their kitchen table or Bingo at their American Legion. We don’t pay attention to clocks or schedules and we’ve no agenda other than just being near those grand relations.
With all my trips to Mississippi to visit my grandparents over the years, its densely wooded marshes and wide waterways feel familiar to me, like a song I’ve heard a hundred times and know all the words to. And the smell of my grandparents’ house instantly takes me back to my childhood, to the giddy thrill of being loved unconditionally and believing I deserved it.
Those of you who have never been to the rural parts of the South may not truly appreciate how different the culture is in that region. Hollywood would have us believe that the South is entirely peopled by backward hicks but, before you accept that stereotype, let me paint a different picture of the area. The South’s remote spots have a warmth that more “sophisticated” locales lack. For instance, honking a horn in Mississippi is typically only a means of drawing attention to a friendly wave. Locking car or house doors seems absurd to most of the natives. And halting plans for a handshake or a chat with a stranger at the grocery store is not uncommon because time is unimportant compared to people.
More on our adventures in the South next week but, for now, may I give a bit of advice? (You know I’m going to give it in any case.) Whether your grandparents live hundreds of miles away, like mine, or just down the street, don’t arrogantly assume that you can be of use to them but they have nothing to offer you. And don’t wait until those predecessors have become birth/death stats to decide to get to know them. Sure, you could research information to understand their lives and perspectives on paper but there’s no substitute for the material gathered from a good conversation or the benefit received from a big hug. Upon frequent association, you may find that your forerunners have strength well beyond your cushy character and that the fascinating story of their times is not merely part of the complicated puzzle of where you came from but a profound clue to where you should be going.