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My Grandparents' Stories

A brief disclaimer before reading: Cindy challenged me to just write for 15 minutes. We're holding each other accountable for blogging each week, even when things get hectic in our teaching lives. Because I still have a few lessons to ponder and assignments to grade, I didn't spell check or revise. As a writer, I just went with it.


One of my goals for this year is to find more of a work-life balance. I kickstarted this over winter break by making it a priority to spend more time with my family, especially my 80-year-old grandparents. They just moved back to my community after moving away 25 years ago, and I am absolutely thrilled to have them so close.

My grandparents grew up in Detroit and moved to Belleville in the late 60s. They lived for nearly 30 years in the house that my aunt still owns today, and moved to Petoskey in 1990, the year in which I was born.

For 25 years I've only been able to know my grandparents from afar. Sure I would drive to them during the summer or for an occasional holiday, and they would visit every time a major event happened in the family. But as a grandson, I always felt so far away from them.

Over winter break, I challenged my students to record a story from someone that was close to them. I want them to see the value in storytelling. We tell stories to share the past, to imagine the future, to bring people together, and for so many other reasons. And over winter break, my grandparents shared so many stories with me. I'm excited to share a story from my grandparents with my students on Tuesday. (I'm giving us all one extra day in case they forgot.)

Over break, my grandpa wanted to visit a bakery that she frequented often when they used to live down here. For the first time, I heard my grandmother talk in hyperbole: "You gain ten pounds just by smelling what they have!" When she said that, I really had to pause. My grandmother is always matter of fact and direct; she is rarely figurative.

And just today Grandma recounted a story of living near her "Uncle George." He wasn't really her uncle, but he was an elderly neighbor with a special needs child, and he would visit her family often. They grew so close that she came to call him "uncle."

Earlier today, during a conversation with my father-in-law, Grandpa recounted his days traveling around Michigan and Canada to fish. I'm not an outdoorsman in the way that he was, but it was powerful to hear about all of the adventures that he went on so long ago. From Lake Erie to various cities and lakes in Canada that I won't even try to pronounce or spell, my grandpa roamed Michigan and explored. I can only hope that I'm fortunate enough to do this, and it was also neat to see how our families can share similar stories.

Tonight at dinner, my grandfather shared the same story about dropping out of high school at the age of 14. He and my grandma were from Catholic families, and he tells it the same way every time: A nun encouraged him to just stop coming to school, and he said, "You said the magic words! I'm out!" He then went to work in a factory, and he ended up working for General Motors until he retired. Every time I hear this story, however, I always think about how much power teachers really have. It's up to us to be relentlessly positive, even when students challenge us. I know I struggle with this. As a human, I'm not designed to like every person I meet, but I can respect them. I can encourage them to do their best and contribute in their own unique way.

With all of that said, I'm thinking more about how I can record these stories. I don't want to record them for academic purposes, but I realistically know they won't be with us forever. My mother's parents died when I younger (my grandfather around when I was 8 and my grandmother around 14), so I know that I won't get to learn from them like I can my father's parents. But I also know that there are so many questions that I don't have answers to about our family and its history.

As I start to get back into the swing of school, I'm thinking about how I will make it a priority in the months ahead to make time for my grandparents. On top of a wedding to plan, a house to ready and move into, and so many other things that are now taking place in my personal life, I will find a way to spend quality time with them.

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