When I was 4, my grandparents were flying in from Long Island to visit us in my hometown of Minneapolis, as they frequently did.
I was so excited for their visit that I gleefully sashayed through our house in anticipation of their arrival. But then I lost my footing, tripped, and dove head first into the sharp corner of an open dresser drawer that my mom was putting clothes in at the time.
I took it all like a champ -- in fact, the gushing blood, the trip to the ER, and the stitches sewn into my forehead weren't enough to dampen my joy because Grandma and Grandpa were on their way!
After all, there's just something about our grandparents.
The last of mine, my Grandma Rita, passed away this past winter at age 92.
I was lucky enough to have three of my grandparents around into my 30s. All but one lived until their early 90s.
When I was a kid, I'd spend two weeks each summer visiting Grandma Rita and Grandpa Max in their Long Island home. I can transport myself back to those afternoons under the boardwalk on the beach, building sandcastle moats with Grandpa and eating tuna sandwiches paired with Hi-C Fruit Punch pouches, and an overdose of cookies, snuck in by Grandma to make sure I wouldn't get hungry.
Indeed, I have many wonderful memories of my other grandma, Tessie, too. We'd road trip to see her in her Milwaukee home, and she'd hand each of us grandchildren the eclectic, yet oddly nurturing combination of pink footy slippers, a hair comb, and Luden's Cherry Cough Drops as we bolted through the door to her apartment, always set to a toasty 80 degrees.
She'd feed us brisket, noodle kugel, or salmon patties, and we'd sit with her and review old family photos, or art projects and essays that one of us grandchildren had produced in school, saved with pride by Grandma Tessie.
It's not a tragedy to lose grandparents when they've lived long, full lives. No, it's not a tragedy because unlike so many other Jewish families, my family matriarchs and patriarchs were all safe and secure living in the U.S., not Europe, during the war. It's not a tragedy because each passed away peacefully in their beds, each one adored by fulfilled children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
But while I know intellectually it's not tragic, my heart longs for them. I miss playing cards with Grandpa Max, playing dress-up with Grandma Tessie's antique-y hats from her youth, and listening to stories about our relatives told to me by Grandma Rita, the raconteur, as we crocheted or did the crossword together.
No, their passing isn't tragic, and yet I think about them every day.
I even think about my Grandpa Harry, who died too young -- unexpectedly of a heart attack at 75 -- exactly two weeks before my second birthday. The anecdotes that my older family members recount about Grandpa Harry, an extraordinary man, make me feel like he too is with me every day.
I have one faint memory of playing "Ring-Around-the-Rosy" with him as a toddler. It doesn't seem possible that I remember that. Maybe my mom told me that story so many times that I've tucked it away in the memory file.
No matter how much time any of us get with them, our grandparents live on in each of us from one generation to the next -- l'dor vador.
I found an iPhone video of an impromptu interview I'd conducted with Grandma Rita and Grandpa Max a few years ago back, before they fell ill. In the video, we're sitting in their living room, my grandparents on one side facing my mom and me on the other, my nephew, their great-grandson -- age 2 at the time -- toddling around in the background.
During our interview, I ask Grandma and Grandpa questions about life growing up in old New York, how they'd met, and their secret to their almost-70 year marriage. "Don't go to bed mad," Grandpa started. And, as if on cue, Grandma, always known for a bit of a bawdy side, chimed in, "…and don't go to bed with anyone else."
Talk to your grandparents, interview them, get them on video, and pay attention to their kugel recipes, their crochet stitching, their card tricks, and their stories about far-flung branches on your family tree.
We won't always have our grandparents here with us -- yet their beloved images and vignettes of their lives, so often recounted, will live on in us and in our children forever.