I’m always surprised by the number of people who haven’t heard of National Grandparents Day. If you’ve never given it much thought, or recently walked through the greeting card aisle at your local retailer, I suppose it would be easy to forget that today is the 30th anniversary of the holiday.
Others are like me, with parents and grandparents who are well aware of the date and get their feelings hurt if their kids and grandchildren forget it. Today gets so little media attention that it’s easy to overlook it. And the truth is, as a nation, we aren’t the best at taking the time to bestow respect and honor on our senior citizens.
People often dismiss Grandparents Day by saying, “Oh, that’s just another holiday the greeting card companies created to make money.” But the history of the day isn’t rooted in commercialism. It is another great American story of one person’s efforts to bring recognition to an often-overlooked segment of our population.
In 1970, West Virginia housewife and senior-citizen advocate Marian McQuade initiated a campaign to set aside a special day just for grandparents. State officials, friends, and senior organizations helped spread the word of her campaign around the state. In 1973 the first Grandparents Day was proclaimed in West Virginia.
McQuade, a mother of 15, grandmother of 40, and great-grandmother of eight, furthered her mission by contacting governors, senators and congressmen around the nation. She and her team turned to the media for coverage, and sent letters to churches, businesses and national senior organizations. Finally, in 1978, the U.S. Congress passed legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation.
I think it’s wonderful that we set aside a day to honor these precious individuals. Research suggests that children receive great benefits from their grandparents. They’re often playmates, mentors and role models. Grandparents are the carriers of ethnic history and family traditions. They usually have more free time to just relax with their grandkids, and simply enjoy the children for who they are at the moment.
I’ve often complained to my grandmother about something my kids have done, only for her to gently remind me how fast childhood passes. She always tells me to enjoy these days, because in the blink of an eye, they’ll be grown up and gone. Of course she’s right. She must look at me sometimes and wonder how her little grandbaby could possibly be 40 years old now.
Some of my warmest, coziest memories include my grandparents, and I cherish every memory now that three of them have passed away. You won’t find their names in history books. They lived quiet lives with old-fashioned values and a deep love of family. And that is the beauty of being a grandparent - you don’t have to be extravagant to earn the love and admiration of little children. You just have to be available.
I miss the laughs and war stories my grandfather, Toto, used to share. I miss my Grandpa Allen, how he smelled of sweet pipe tobacco and always gave me a quarter when he came to visit. My Granny Allen was the most amusing combination of Southern charm and gruffness. They were always there in the background of my life, a comforting gift of wisdom and fun.
I’m grateful that we live near my one living grandmother, the one we’ve always called Honey. There is still a sense of coziness and warmth that greets me when I walk through the door. Her home represents a sanctuary of unconditional love and acceptance. It always has been the safe oasis I needed throughout my life, the one place I knew that no matter what I’d done, she’d be happy to see me. It’s the one place I can be assured that, no matter what crazy thing comes out of my mouth, there’s someone patient enough to truly sit and listen to what I have to say.
There is something magical that happens between grandparents and their grandkids. As author Alex Haley describes it, “Grandparents can do more for us than anyone else in the world; they sprinkle stardust in our eyes.”
For that, and a thousand reasons more, let’s honor our grandparents - not just today, but always.
Kari Apted may be reached at kari@ kariapted.com.