As the first grandchild on both sides I was very close to all of my grandparents, and always
spent alone each summer in sizzling-hot Fresno with Daddy’s parents, Grandpa Fred and Grandma Myrtle.
We didn’t do anything fancy. If Grandma was teaching Headstart that summer, I would help out in the classroom. I’d go with Grandpa on his morning walk. After lunch we all played dominoes. I might help her organize the cupboards and polish the silver. The weather was so hot we had to pick tomatoes and zucchini twice a day. I got a nickel apiece for finding the tomato worms that decimated Grandpa’s plants.
My grandparents were careful with every penny, leaving the windows open until about 8:30 in the morning when they closed everything up and turned on the air conditioner. When bacon reached the ridiculous price of 69 cents a pound, Grandpa said, “no more bacon.” Once he bought a chicken for dinner and then watched, surprised, as he cut it into portions for six different dinners. Just one of the pieces was for that night’s dinner.
I treasured that alone time as soon enough there were five of us kids and precious little
alone anything. A simple question from Grandma: “What you like for dinner, Karen?” was a huge novelty, as was helping with and dishes and “grown-up conversation” or time to talk. For years the three of us girls shared a bedroom so cramped that Daddy had to remove the door so the furniture would fit.
Grandma Myrtle was a third-grade teacher and so that’s what I wanted to be. Grandpa Fred was a do-it-yourselfer and fisherman and my brother Danny still has a thing for tools and boats.
It wasn’t a surprise when Grandma died 28 years ago. She had had Alzheimer’s for years. Grandpa, one of 14 to 16 kids, depending on how you count, knew how to ‘make do’, but apparently couldn’t ‘make do’ without Grandma in the world. He died one year later to the day after her.
We all knew we had their love, but we kids were totally shocked that there was also a little money for us too.
Danny put his toward a down payment on a house. Alicia used hers for medical bills. Sabrina was also buying a home. David put his toward college tuition.
I already had a house. I had a college diploma and great health insurance.
So I put it in a separate bank account—somehow seemed wrong to just put it in the ‘pot’ to pay the gas and electric bill—with the idea that one day I would do something special in their memory.
Over the years I’d ponder that sometimes.
But two things finally got me off the pot.
First, I got divorced recently and was happy I’d put this into a separate account—inheritance isn’t community property, after all—and second, time is marching by. Last year Daddy turned 80 and what am I waiting for?
“How about if I build a school building?” I told Daddy my plan for the first time. I’ve been a supporter of Room to Read for a long time and I could build a school in honor of him and Grandma and Grandpa.
We are a family of teachers. Three of my siblings are teachers. Mama teaches ballet. Daddy taught college math for 44 years. Grandma was an elementary school teacher, as was her mother, the great-grandmother I never met.
“I’m sure you’d like to go visit the school when it’s done,” I told Daddy, “so you pick which country you’d like to put it in.
“Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Laos, Zambia, or Sri Lanka.”
Daddy picked Sri Lanka.
And now, ten months later, three airplane flights and 9,278 miles away from home…. here we are.