“I was born on the 14th day of August in 1938. At that time, there was an old saying that the first person to take the new baby around the house would make the baby be more like them. My grandma, my mother’s mom (who I called Maw Crocker) grabbed me, and around the house she went, and guess what? Everyone has always said that I was just like her.” –Shirley Marlene Benson
I began my quest to learn what makes grandmothers special by interviewing the best experts that I know. As I sat down with two generations of grandmothers, my mom (Hilda White) and her mom—Mamaw (Marlene Benson), I could feel the significance of the moment in the air around me hanging like a bride’s veil the moment before the sanctuary doors open revealing her to the world. We could all feel it. I started a conversation about a sacred relationship, one that I can only hope to also experience, that of a grandmother. They sat there attentively listening to me while very carefully choosing what words might express their thoughts and feelings. I was the outsider. An outsider warmly welcomed into a sacred circle as only the arms of a grandmother can. My intentions to get a better understanding of being a grandmother became so much more as, by listening, I discovered the magic of grandmothers.
As I began our conversation, it seemed only fitting to start with where it all began—the moment they became grandmothers.
I asked, “Do you remember what it was like . . . the moment when you first became a grandmother?” Mamaw’s response was immediate. Recollecting the emotion seemed to take her back nearly 40 years, the passion overtaking her voice as she replied, “I was so excited . . . with all my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, I felt the same when they were born. It was an excitement for me. Something I really looked forward to.” As a mother, I found myself relating even more to the similar response of my mom, “I was very excited . . . Even though others tell you that you are going to love being a grandparent, you really don’t understand it until you have that grandchild . . .” This sentiment began to shape my perspective. I related because it was only after becoming a mother that I could understand this kind of love and the ability to love multiple souls with the same unconditional love. It seems that a grandmother’s love is similar but, at the same time, different. A difference that only a grandmother can understand.
At this point, I am even more intrigued and still no closer to finishing my quest, so I ask them, “How would you say being a grandmother has affected your life?” Certainly, the responses to this question would give me more insight. Mamaw, again, responded immediately, “I thank the Lord everyday because I’m so blessed to havesuch a wonderful family. Each one of you is special in your own way . . . each one touches my heart . . .” Mamaw’s response, though somewhat vague, helped my mom articulate her response, “Like Mama each grandchild is just very special, and they are different. Continuing to be able to hold them, love on them, read to them, play with them, it gives you the opportunities to still be a mother and a teacher . . . and knowing that you are being a part of them . . . of their own lives . . . their growth and exceling, and it’s because you helped to contribute to that.” At the end of my mom’s reflection, Mamaw interjected, “It’s a wonderful feeling.” Now, I was getting somewhere.
These feelings. Feelings that grandchildren give to grandmothers—being able to feel like your life is being continued through that of your grandchildren . . . your purpose and life extend beyond the boundaries of your generation and affect those generations that follow.
This same idea presents itself in another response. The question was “Why do you think grandmothers are important?” Both my mom and Mamaw noted the importance of ancestry and heritage. Mamaw replied, “Your heritage comes from them . . . you kind of inherit part of what your parents and grandparents teach you.” With a similar idea, and in a rather short response, my mom made a powerful point stating, “It also shows stability. You have a connection.” The ideas of stability, connection, and inheritance provide us with a sense of longevity, community, family, and identity. We need to feel a sense of belonging and purpose. Our lives while just a second in eternity can continue even after that second passes through the lives of our grandchildren and great grandchildren.
This link to identity became apparent when I asked Mamaw to describe her grandmother. She said, “She was a lot like me. I mean; I’m a lot like her.” I don’t think there actually was any mistake in Mamaw’s response. For it shows the important role grandparents play in shaping the identities of their grandchildren. By knowing our grandmothers (or grandfathers) we identify them and associate ourselves with them, creating our own identities. They become a part of us, and we become a part of them. Here it is…the answer for which I had been searching.
I guess the old saying must be true; Maw Crocker carried baby Marlene around the house symbolically sharing her own identity with the tiny, innocent granddaughter in her arms initiating the magical spark. It was the beginning of a sacred relationship. A magical relationship. Grandmother magic.
By Beth McKay