Grandparent Memories and What's to Come

By Sarah Newman

It was the Christmas of 1983 when we started out on our annual trek from Omaha to Minnesota for the holiday.  I was three, my middle brother was 1 and my baby brother was 10 months old. This would be the first of many Christmas’ we would drive to see my grandparents who lived 6 hours north of our hometown; over the Nebraska border, through the Iowa cornfields, and halfway through the state of 10,000 lakes.  As the years grew, along with my sibling count, we would add summer vacations and Thanksgiving breaks to our family tradition celebrations with my grandparents. But this particular memory lives vividly in my mind, even though I was only 3.

My grandparents lived in Northfield, MN. The city smelled like malt-o'meal immediately upon entry.  That’s because that’s where malt-o’meal was born. My grandparents had tall thin evergreen trees that lined the end of their backyard, and a huge swooping weeping willow in their front yard. They lived down the street from an elementary school, which means we had access to the playground any time we were there. Most times, the Minnesota winters were a bit harsh to enjoy them.

The Christmas of 1983 stands out. Our family of five was four hours into our drive and it started to snow.  My parent’s old Chevy Chevette wasn’t the most reliable car. With rapidly dropping temps and two hours left to drive, the alternator went out.  Stranded on the side of the road, a policeman came to our rescue and and dropped us off at the local Happy Chef to wait for my grandfather to come pick us up. It was close to midnight before he could get to the restaurant because of the blizzard, and it was close to 2 am before we would be safely delivered to my grandparents home.. My parents had to leave our car in this small town to get worked on for a few days, so we stayed with my grandparents and enjoyed the holiday. Now that I am an adult, I’m sure that my parents do not relish in the memory of the audacious Happy Chef figurine greeting us as we pulled up to the restaurant, and I must admit,  they hid their stress and anxiety that holiday season really well. 

My grandparents rarely came to visit us in Omaha, but my memories of Minnesota were always full of joy and laughter.  My grandma never slept, and was always perched in her kitchen chair early in the morning reading the paper, finishing her crossword puzzles, drinking multiple pots of coffee and smoking far too many cigarettes.  My brothers and I always laughed with her in the early mornings because the kitchen chairs swirled, and as you turned them from side to side, they creaked. It annoyed my grandma so much she would say, “You kids are driving me up the walls!”  For some reason my brothers and I really got a kick out of her and that screeching voice, and we would swivel in the chairs even more. 

It’s memories like these over the years that make those visits with my grandparents special.  My grandparents were never a part of our daily lives; only a few days out of the year did we spend copious amounts of time with them, on their territory.  The time together usually involved washing dishes because they didn’t have a dishwasher, working on a 1,000 piece puzzle because that’s another thing my grandma really enjoyed, my grandfather paying me to wrap my grandmother’s Christmas gifts, teaching myself how to play their organ, and watching too much Nickelodeon because they had cable tv and we didn’t. I could keep going, but I’ll pause my trip down memory lane, for now. .

Fast forward many years… and my husband and I have four kids ranging in age from two to twelve.  We live 1 mile from my parent’s doorstep. My kids are growing up in a completely different grandparent environment from the one I knew as a kid. And it makes me wonder so many things...

The first one being: how in the world did my parents survive without either of their parents or extended family in town or nearby?  For the past 12 years it has been a daily habit to call upon my parents for help whether it be last minute school pick ups, invites for dinners, taking my kids shopping for school clothes, or the occasional overnights so my husband and I can have a break!  But this may be my own selfishness shining through.

The one thing I wonder about most is how my children will reflect back on their grandparent situation.  I am grateful for the memories made with my grandparents who lived so far, and I will cherish them for all my years.  My experience is not one bit close to how my kids are experiencing their relationship with their grandparents. In 20 years time, I look forward to reflecting back on the memories the two generations will share together.  I can only hope they are as vivid and memorable as mine with my grandparents!

The other day my daughter turned 10.  My mom and dad’s gift to my daughter was a sewing class. My mom took her to pick out the fabric, dropped her off at the class, and took her to lunch after the class was over. She then signed her up for another class and the two talked about what she is going to make at the next two classes!  Cheers to a different type of memory, and a completely different story for the books!


Sarah is a mom to 4 kiddos ranging from 2y/o-12y/o. She and her husband reside in Denver. CO. She enjoys trips to the beach and spending time gathering women together to socialize and build community. She also co-hosts a LIVE video on FB/Insta every Tuesday at 11:30am MST on the Families of Character page. Check her out!

Jordan Langdon