The Great Grandfamily

Bird meets her great-grandma.

Bird meets her Great-Grandma D.

In her fourth month the little one logged almost 4,000 miles on the road and visited four of her five living great grandparents. We didn’t plan it that way, but Hubs unexpectedly had some retroactive paternity leave, so we decided to spend Thanksgiving in Tucson (which involved driving 1,000 miles each way) where three of his four living grandparents reside.

We also spent Halloween back home (which involved driving 600 miles each way), stopping to stay with my American grandma on the way. My Okinawan grandma is on the list for next year.

We learned a lot of family stories that we hadn’t heard before, like how Hubs’ paternal grandparents met on a blind date in high school while living in rural Wisconsin. They lived in rival towns twenty miles apart and saw each other every weekend until Grandpa joined the Navy three years later. They married in 1960. Grandma was 18 years old. In their 55 years of marriage they’ve had two sons, three grandsons, one great-grandson… and a great granddaughter. At the beginning of the week they almost didn’t know what to do with a girl.

Bird and her Great-Grandma K

Bird and her Great-Grandma K

Hubs’ maternal grandparents almost didn’t marry. They had each been in love with another person, but their parents forbade “interracial” relationships outside of their Armenian heritage. Eventually they met through family connections (they are both Armenian), and were married for almost 60 years before Grandpa passed away last year. They had six daughters (including a set of identical twins, one of them my MIL), nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

My paternal grandparents met in junior high in the early 1950s. Papa had moved to “the city” from rural Oklahoma, and was the only kid in school wearing cowboy boots, while everyone else wore penny loafers and saddle shoes. He would have been teased, but he was bigger than everyone else, and no one dared bully him. More than 30 years of marriage before Papa died of complications from heart surgery in his 50s. Three children, seven grands, eight great-grands.

My maternal grandparents had an arranged marriage. For nearly three months after the arrangement was made by their fathers, my Obaachan refused to live with my Ojiichan. But he was patient and kind, and waited for her to come on her own. Eventually they migrated from their tiny fishing island to the larger, more prosperous island of Okinawa, where they bought a home and became devout Buddhists. More than 60 years of marriage, five children, sixteen grands, and fifteen great-grands.

Since we’ve been back I’ve thought a lot about family histories, and aging, and marriages that last a lifetime. Family stories have long been written, and have been so since long before we came along. But none of us just wakes up with a family and a mortgage. Each generation started with a first meeting, a first child, and a first home. And of course I’ve just given the end results of these stories, and not the many highlights, fumbles, losses, triumphs, and personality strengths and caveats.

Our family story is being written right now, every day. We’re nearly two years into marriage, one child, and we still rent. What will we get to tell our great-grandchildren when they visit? What will they remember about our family story? Thinking about it makes me want to live more positively and purposefully. We only get one go of it, after all. I hope our story ends up rich and colorful, with lots of quirky turns, but mostly full of love.


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