What I Wish I’d Asked My Grandparents

Your grandparents are your grandchildren’s great great grandparents.

Well, of course you say, makes sense.

I wish I knew more about my own great grandparents, but aside from a few facts and artifacts I know very little, and wish I knew more. If only I’d been interested enough to ask my grandparents when I had a chance, but alas, it was not an fascinating subject to me at the time.

But now I am the grandparent. My grandchildren share my earlier uninterest of the past that now provides some attraction for me. I knew three of my grandparents, and heard a few stories of the one grandfather who died ten years before my birth. I’ve written stories of ancestors further back, and even done a sketch of the early lives of my grandparents, but they weren’t the people I knew.

If only I’d asked about the grandparents of my grandparents. What would I want to know?

  • Their general personalities…jolly, serious, anxious…
  • Their childhoods…privileged, impoverished, only child or one of many, dominated by what? (Immigration, their church, a particular event, coalmines, illness…)
  • How they met their eventual spouse, your other grandparent.  Maybe there was a previous marriage as well? Or a later one?
  • Any courtship stories…they are gold
  • Where did they live, specifically and what was it like then.  Rural, small town, major city?  What about the house or apartment.  Were there a series of them, or did they stay in one place?
  • What about the relationship between them?  Loving, distant, combative, supportive?
  • How was parenthood for them?
  • Did they have hobbies, or a particular skill?
  • Were they involved in the world outside their homes? Paid work? Community contributions?  Politics?
  • What about their health?  Poor health can dominate a life.
  • Memories of actual events involving the grandparent and grandchild. Perhaps a family or holiday tradition, a crises, the memory of a visit…
  • How did they manage their older years?  Were some part of an aging couple, or were they widowed?  Did they live alone, or with family?  Was their living space elegant, spare, cluttered, homey? Was it full of mementos of their own past?  Any specific ones remembered?

You can probably think of more you would ask, but I would certainly like to know those answers. I think I can answer most about the grandparents I did know. I think I’ve found my next project.

And if you’re saying to yourself, interesting, but I don’t have grandchildren, I’d say do it anyhow. Perhaps your siblings have descendants you could send the answers to, identifying who you’re talking about. In fact that identifying part is critical. These aren’t random people born in the late 19th or early 20th century. These are real, named folks who were probably on the census. You could create a timeline of their lives as well. A project to keep you busy for the rest of the winter. And someday your grandchildren will be grateful.





The Cable Channel for You and Me

If you were designing a cable channel for older adults, what would you want to see? Who do you think would sponsor it?

I asked this question to a group of intelligent folks in their Medicare years and found lots of ideas. For shows, they like to see:

  • Style makeovers, from clothes to hair to makeup.  We all want to look good, but need some ideas for age appropriate looking good.
  • Travel, from cruises and expeditions to Peru to US cities with local features you can get to within an hour or two.
  • Cooking.  Family secret recipes, cooking for one, ideas for a person new to cooking, hosting a holiday meal, something delicious and easy for a small dinner party.
  • Comedians.  Everyone likes a good laugh.
  • A biography and interview show.  Lots of people we’d like to know more about, living and dead.  Jimmy Carter, Jane Fonda, authors, world leaders.
  • History.  We were busy during those years.  What really happened in Vietnam, during the Reagan presidency and why is North Korea like that.
  • Movies.  We’d really like to see people over 50, looking good, being in charge, and having a great time.
  • A house and garden show, small scale, like gardening on a deck, what to keep when you’re downsizing for eight rooms to four, how to ruthlessly get rid of stuff.
  • A potpourri show of Q & A, expert demonstrations, tips.  Like opening jars, fixing a leaky faucet, how to get an extension on your income taxes, how to be a good long-distance grandparent, relationship advice.
  • Reruns of shows we might not have appreciated at the time:  Murder She Wrote, Golden Girls, Barnaby Jones.
  • Courses and lectures.  So much to learn, so little time.

And for sponsors, please no pharmaceuticals, adult diapers, or funeral homes. How about advertising for things we do spend our money on, like cars, restaurants, hotels, oil companies, supermarkets, airlines, insurance, retail stores, cosmetic companies, hair salons, banks, financial planners, theater and orchestras, and travel companies.

Cable channels spring up for every demographic. Is there one for older adults? I haven’t found it. Wouldn’t it be a great idea? All suggestions welcome, and I’ll cut you In on the million dollar deal this will create.   And, dear entertainment moguls, remember that 10,000 Americans turn 65 every DAY.


Cool word, isn’t it?  I’m sure you can figure out the meaning. You were retired, and now you’re not. You unretired. It’s a movement, folks.

Why would you do such a thing? Everybody loves being retired, right? Well, no, not everybody. Yesterday I heard about a man who responded “I drive my wife to the grocery store” when asked how he kept busy during this era of his life. That man needs more, and maybe needs to rethink retirement. Or perhaps your retirement was forced on you when you weren’t ready for it.

But, you say, the old job changed, you’ve been replaced, or maybe it just doesn’t exist anymore. If you want to unretire it probably won’t be to the job you had before. More likely it will be part time, and in a different field, and probably will pay less. But it will pay, and it will expect you to be there and do what you signed on for. The Walmart greeter is the cliché of retirement jobs, so think wider. I just looked at my state career site, filtered by part time and my city and found all kinds of health care jobs, skilled and not, after and before school child care workers, retail, insurance, parking lot attendants, sales, plus, plus.

Some people go back to work to keep their social security growing until it reaches its maximum. Some for the busyness value, some for an extra income, or maybe just because you miss it. Here’s the link to Pennsylvania’s job site. Take a look. Maybe there’s something there to temp you to unretire.


Relocating in Retirement: To Be Near Family

You’ve cleared out the house, the sale went well, and you’re ready to implement the next phase of your plan, moving to a new place.near your daughter and grandchildren. The moving van has arrived with your carefully curated worldly goods. The hard work is behind you, right? Place to live, family nearby, what next? What’s next is to find a life in your daughter’s town, and to make it your town. But how to do it? If you’ve moved around a few times before you probably have some tricks that have worked for you. I’ve moved a fair amount too, but always to a job as the leading spouse, or a job search as the trailing spouse. Employment creates an immediate culture when you’re in a new environment as well as a place to go every day. In retirement finding your niche can be easier in some ways. You have time to deliberately try out some options. What did you like doing in your old home city? Volunteering? They need you in daughter town too, Church/temple membership? Start visiting. A senior center? They have them everywhere, thank you Older Americans Act. Classes? Check local universities for older adults programs, and evening classes at high schools, education departments at museums.

And a few ideas to make you feel more at home:

• Get a library card, and visit regularly.

• Register to vote, get a new driver’s license.

• Find a mechanic nearby and let them get to know your car.

• Decide on the local grocery store, dry cleaner, hair stylist and show them some loyalty.

• Find a place where you’re comfortable having lunch by yourself, go regularly, and tip well.

• People will ask you to do things like go to a newcomer’s reception, have lunch, meet for coffee, go to a movie, or attend a high school football game. Do it all. Decide afterward if it was worth your time, not before. Decide you’re going to have a good time. Enjoy.

• Ask your daughter and grandchildren how you can be helpful in their lives. Think about meals, transportation, emergency contact, child care. Establish some routines. Sunday dinner? Friday night suppers?

Oh, and a big one: find doctors and dentist that fit your needs. Do a little shopping to get a good fit. Make sure your insurance is appropriate for this part of the country.

Pretty exhausting to think about, so don’t do it all at once. Make your own list, post it on the fridge and work your way through it. And keep your eyes open for another newcomer figuring out life there. A friend makes a lot of difference, and she’s probably looking for you too.