My grandparents, George and Mary, who I called “grandpa” and “bubby” my entire life, were my biggest fans. Together, they personified unconditional love. Even when I was young, they respected my opinions, showing patience as I synthesized my world. When I made mistakes, they were quick to forgive. That does not mean they did not acknowledge my poor judgement, though the most severe of punishment I remember was my grandfather saying “I’m disappointed in in you.”
Once the moment passed, there was no further discussion, the slate wiped clean. When discussing life choices, my grandfather expressed himself simply and elegantly. “Try to make decisions you would be proud to explain.”
Even in my rebellious adolescence , I returned their respect. I never considered my mother’s parents as “old folks” who could not relate to my life. George and Mary never forgot their own misbegotten youth, their mistakes, successes, challenges, and triumphs. Their honesty strengthened our bond at an age when many of my peers viewed grandparents as dusty curios on bookshelves in a family room they rarely entered.
Quick story: College, 1979. Wall phone in my dorm room rings, Sunday morning, 7am. My grandmother had quickly deduced this was one of the few times she could get hold of me.
Jon: “Uhhhhh, Hello?”
Bubby: You sound terrible.
Jon: “I was out late last night.”
Bubby: “Jon, are you taking drugs?”
Jon: “No bubby! Why?”
Bubby: Reader’s Digest says one out of every five college student uses drugs.”
Jon: “Not me. Bubby!”
Bubby: “Then what do you do with all the money we send you?”
Jon: “Girls, bubby. I spend it on girls.”
Bubby: Oh good. Okay. Bye.”
(For the record, at that time, like now, I did not consider marijuana a “drug,”)
Fast forward one week later, Sunday morning, 7am.
Jon: “Uhhhhh, Hello?”
Bubby: “You sound terrible.”
Jon: “I was out really really late last night.”
Bubby: “Jon, do you have any diseases?”
Bubby: “Reader’s Digest says one out of every four college student has a disease.”
Jon: “No bubby, I’m really, really careful.”
Bubby: Oh good! Be careful Jon. Bye.
In 1927, My grandfather left the small town he had lived in his entire life and moved to New York City. He returned a year later. When discussing it, he expressed how uncomfortable he had felt living in a big city. He explained, “You could drop dead and no one would know your name.” Decades later, when George took me out for lunch, our meal could take hours, interrupted by a steady stream of well-wishers.
My grandparents came to mind today after my morning began. I walked into my coffee shop. When the staff saw me, there were smiles and hellos. I’m on a first name basis with all of them. I went to my seat at the communal table and set up my iPad and keyboard. Looking up, Josh delivered a cup of coffee without me ordering.
I’m not saying my grandfather was wrong about big cities. I get it. I understand his fear of feeling invisible, living among strangers, doubting his legacy. Neither George nor Mary nended to worry about that.
Thanks for listening. Stay in touch. Connect.
P.S. Speaking of unconditional love.