Grandfathers today have it made when it comes to interacting with their grandkids. Everywhere one looks is an opportunity to have fun: themed restaurants, movies, museums, sporting events, parks… The list is endless. Grandfathers a few generations ago didn’t seem to have these options. At least, my grandpa didn’t exercise any with me. What he did was much more important and long lasting. He took his time to interact with me and while doing so he curated interests and memories that would last my entire life.
Meet my Grandpa Renzelman
My grandfather was a third generation German immigrant. He grew up on a family homestead on the eastern plains of Colorado where he and his four siblings played baseball in the hayloft of the barn on inclement days. When he married during the Great Depression, he continued farming with a very large, gentle mare named Dolly. He didn’t serve in the armed services during WWII because he had three pretty little girls to raise, but he contributed to the war effort by farming and sending the wheat to the troops. His brother was, after all, serving in the Pacific somewhere, as were two of his brother-in-laws. During the 50’s he helped in the rebuilding of the Wray Lutheran church after it burned in a horrible fire. Everyone in the small farming community seemed to know Elmer Renzelman and that it was he and Cope Mahagan that stole the cookies from the Farmer’s Café kitchen. I know all this because my grandpa told me.
An album full of stories
You see, Grandpa was the family historian and he loved to tell stories about every member of the family for as far back as he could go! Maybe he became the keeper of the family tales because he was the oldest in the family. Perhaps it was because the family photo album ended up at the farm. Perhaps it was a form of entertainment while he spent all those hours behind a horse and later on the seat of a tractor. All I know is that he passed the passion on to me!
Grandpa had a way of weaving story spells any time I was with him and it became my favorite activity to share with him. Even at an early age, I knew exactly what drawer the magic photo album was in. Soon after my arrival to his home, I could be found tugging on the sticky old drawer of the buffet and pulling out the treasured thick leather bound book. I would climb up onto Grandma’s old scratchy sofa so that I could sit right next to my most treasured guide of the past.
We always had to begin our journey at the very first page. The black paper had softened with time and the photos were framed by little black corners at each vertex. The characters of the past would stare back at me in soft sepia tones. Grandpa’s voice would pitch and roll with each picture proclaiming just who the relative was and how many greats went in front of their names. There were the scary people with their stern faces and the fat great grandmas who possessed laps just made for curling up in. There were photos of Dolly with pretty little girls sitting astride of her. There was my Uncle Bob in his army uniform. There, tucked in the pages, were photos of the burned out hull of the church and of Grandpa with his arm around Cope. As the pages turned, Grandpa would get more and more excited because we were coming to my baby pictures and he always seemed to be especially proud of those photos!
As I write this, I can hear Grandpa’s chuckle and see his fingers pointing to each picture that is blazed in my memory. I can smell the soap on his skin and the cigar in his pocket. And with the heightened senses I might as well be right back in that living room with him.
Make time for memories
Grandfathers don’t have to do fancy things these days. They don’t have to take grandkids anywhere special. I think, given how I loved my grandpa, that grandfathers just have to be willing to spend time with their little ones sharing what they love the most. And those little ones will probably grow up cherishing those things, and holding tight to the memories all because they adored the man that shared them.
Submitted for use by The Grandpa Project by Staci McGill, Langley, Washington
Here’s another grandpa who has put together another way to leave a legacy for his grandsons. Check out his story here!