Grandparents Living La Vida Loca

By Kate Willoughby Hall | February 5th, 2015

New BOOMER columnist Kate Hall on today's new generation of grandparents.

One of my fondest memories as a little girl was Sundays at my grandmother’s kitchen table. We played gin rummy, made cookies from scratch, or rolled dice in a heated game of Yahtzee. Cousins would breeze in and out — I was the 22nd and final grandchild, bringing up the proverbial caboose. Boxes of old family photos would be opened so that each could be touched, seen and examined. It was laughter-filled, hands-on, and looking back on it today, otherworldly.


Alternate Sundays, our family would also travel to “the hill” — a relative term in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania — to my paternal grandmother’s, where I climbed in apple trees craftily grafted by my grandfather. I never met him, but I spent many a day running amok in back of the house my grandparents shared. There were bonfires in the backyard, even on the Fourth of July, when all the cousins came to visit. I am the 18th grandchild on that side of the family. There was always a crowd.

My mom was the youngest of six, my dad the youngest of five, and I was the youngest of four. Needless to say, I was the last of the “little kids,” and one of the great rewards of being the baby was some alone time with my grandmothers. Both of my grandfathers passed away when I was young, so the memories are vague, but both my paternal and maternal grandmothers – with their big laps, comfortable clothes and even-more-comfortable “davenports” – were a part of my childhood.

Both of their homes had exactly one television, firmly rooted in gigantic wooden boxes the size of a modern-day freezer, taking up at least half of their tiny living rooms. Home telephones still had rotary dials in many cases and those long, dangly cords that as a 10-year-old, I’d often stretch into the hall closet to sneak a private conversation with my best friend. Kitchen appliances were often almond-colored or on many occasions, pea green. There was a lot of time sitting and talking. We laughed about going to “see the old folks” but secretly we had a blast hearing about the good old days and getting spoiled rotten.


Thirty years later, I’m a mom of three kids, none of whom know what a rotary dial phone looks like, nor can they imagine a life without texting. They communicate with their grandparents through Facetime and teach them games like “2048” on their iPods, each sitting side-by-side, playing maniacally (against the computer, not each other). It’s tough to catch their grandparents — our parents — hanging out at their kitchen tables for long stretches.

These modern-day grandparents travel to Cancun with friends, spend a month in Ireland and play bridge and golf 20 hours weekly. They text and send photos from their iPhones, realize the need for Wi-Fi and talk to their grandchildren about Destiny, Realm of the Mad God and other digital obsessions. They have fewer grandchildren — 11 on my side, eight on my husband’s. They’re social and are often found out-to-dinner, going to shows with friends and living what my husband and I jokingly call la vida loca. Penciling in a visit with these active types is no walk in the park; it’s tough to track ’em down. There’s less time sitting, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Over the Thanksgiving holiday my mom, also known as “Grammy,” gave me a rubber band-bound stack of photos of me that I had mailed to my grandmother over the years. Many years after her passing, the massive pile of her photos was sifted through and returned to me. The kids gathered around to look at the photographs — actual glossy prints, not digital images — all snaps of them as babies and toddlers, all silly grins and messy faces.

When I told them that this was the only type of photos we used to have — that we couldn’t even see the pictures until we took the film somewhere to be developed — they just gave me furrowed-brow, smart-alecky looks and said, “Oh, Mom, you’re so OLD!”

I guess somethings never change.

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