Gracefully Strong, Fearlessly Compassionate

It is just another weekday morning in my dimly lit, cool home, where I comfortably eat my overnight oats and French eggs at the oak table passed down from my paternal grandparents. The table reminds me of my grandparents quite often. Ironically, I have been asking myself a lot of questions lately about my present and future, and the table set my mind on the parts of me influenced by my grandparents as well as what I want to continue to take into my future.

Gramp (41) and Gram (40)


My grandmother, a chef in the once highest-ranking private college in Michigan, known for anti-slavery and one of the first formations of the Republican party, fed me many meals at this worn table. Her voice always echoed through the house as she cooked. Music would play—she was not picky—and she would sing spiritedly as if she were in an opera. Her favorite? Floyd Cramer. I can still hear “Last Dance” in my head even now. My love for piano music comes from her; I am certain.

The smell of coffee, always brewed in a percolator on the stove, wafted through the air. The dark coffee stains in the Anchor Hocking Fire King mugs told stories of the visitors who sipped before me. I was always comfortable with her, perhaps because she was proficient in storytelling, and I love stories.

My favorite story of hers was frequently told at either the family dinner table in my own home, the table I inherited, or the large dining room table that sat in her home, specifically for large family gatherings.

“My friend and I were walking through the streets in a small town offering carriage rides. She had always wanted to take a carriage ride, but I am terrified of horses. I agreed, for my friend’s sake, if we could ride in the seat furthest from the horses.” She was either kicked by a horse or was afraid of being kicked.

“As we waited, a Latvian woman befriended us.” My grandmother was friendly and enjoyed people and their cultures, so it was nothing new for her to strike up a conversation and immediately cut up into jokes and laughter. Laughter was her medicine after all. In a time when children were to be silent at the table, she often ate in the kitchen because she could not keep her laughter at bay long enough to eat like a polite little girl.

Her story would continue. “My friend and I sat in the back, and the Latvian woman, with broken English and a thick accent, sat just ahead of us in the front.”

At this point, she would already be breathless from her hearty, uncontrollable laughter. Tears were probably streaming down her face. “The horse made an awful noise. Pfffffttttt.” She would spit sometimes when she would make the fart noise. “The Latvian woman turned around with brown splatter on her face and white blouse and began crying, ‘Vud he do? Vud eez deez?’”

My grandmother would conclude her story with my siblings and me satisfied that we had once again instigated a story at the dinner table. Disapproving glances and rebuffs from my mom typically followed, but it was always worth it.

From my grandmother, I learned to be gracefully strong, love and accept people as they are, show kindness, appreciate music (and sing loud), and laugh—a lot.


My grandfather was a gruff man. Don’t get me wrong, he was kind and quite funny, but he was rough around the edges. His hands were big and rough, but he worked delicately as an artist. He would create molds and paint his casted sculptures beautifully. Wildlife sculptures, most often fish, could be found drying on counters and bookshelves. I was oft captivated by his artwork and knowledge of and tenderness toward birds and animals. I still remember the twinkle in his eye, seen only by flashlight, as he shone the light into a tree for my brother and me to see a family of possums, including the small babies, hanging from a limb.

I am sure the uncensored language that came out of his mouth demonstrated anger or irritation, but most of the time when I heard it, it was in a humorous tone. When my grandmother’s soap opera would come on after lunch, she would send my grandfather up to the living room for a “siesta” because he would yell at one of the women in the show, “B*tch.” He only ever spoke that one word, but he was banished from the television after lunch for the rest of his life.

Upon learning I would be moving out of state to attend a private Baptist college which he scoffed at, he took me out on a date to purchase a desktop computer—for him, not me. On our way back to his and my grandmother’s Frank Lloyd Wright gray stone and honey-colored wooden home, we stopped at the local Wendy’s for a chocolate malt milkshake. He thought it was time I enjoy more than just coffee with him. He and I sat and discussed Hearts and Pedro strategies while dipping fries in our milkshakes, which he tried just for me.

He loved to retell the same story, and I loved to hear it. Every Friday or Saturday night, we would play cards—he and my grandmother, my parents, and my youngest brother. His story was about a night we happened to be playing Hearts. My grandmother was brilliant when it came to playing cards and would attempt to take all the hearts in every deal, being successful many of those times. In hearts, when one person gets all the hearts and the queen of spades, it leaves everyone else with twenty-six points. In Hearts, points are not wanted. My grandfather took one heart just before unloading the queen of spades on my grandmother. She had twenty-five points just like that. As the story goes, she socked him repeatedly in his right arm and called him a dirty old man. She claimed she did not remember this, but the rest of us did.

Once we returned back to my grandmother’s and grandfather’s home, my grandfather rearranged the split kitchen/dining area to fit a retro rectangular diner table in front of the wall of windows. I worked for two hours—on and off—to set up the massive desktop. Snacking on my grandmother’s sugar sprinkled drop cookies and bird watching takes time too. Once set up, I loaded the AOL disk and heard the familiar dial-up tones. The screeching sound obnoxiously announced he would soon be chatting with me on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). My grandfather bought a computer so he could hunt and peck messages to me while I was away at college. I could always count on a conversation if he was online, and it always started out, “Hi Kidlet.”

From my grandfather, I learned to embrace simple pleasures like coffee, malted milkshakes, sugar cookies, and wildlife. He was fearlessly compassionate, especially toward animals—but people as well—teaching me to be the same. He always had a way of making me feel special even if it was by something as simple as having an extra dark chocolate Milky Way in the freezer for me. I have a secret stash of “Milky Way” for people in my life. Finally, he never seemed afraid to do something new or different. He was a carefree adventurer, in his own way—whether spelunking, hiking in Yellowstone, creating with his hands, or buying and using a computer at the age of 71.

Gram and Gramp traveled over 600 miles to see my college graduation. Gramp hunted and pecked his way to an AOL greeting about three times each week for four years.

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