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Even as adults, we still carry snapshot memories of our grandparents. A vision of a grandmother cooking, a grandfather tinkering in the yard. For so many children, grandparents are islands of love and acceptance. In honor of Grandparents’ Day, North Carolina State University Extension specialists share special memories of their grandparents...

In 1979, a Virginia housewife named Marian McQuade campaigned to honor grandparents.

Her campaign launched the first Grandparents’ Day in West Virginia in 1973. Then, in 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed the law recognizing a national Grandparents’ Day.

Now America celebrates grandparents every September with cards, gifts and well wishes.

In honor of America’s grandparents, three North Carolina State University extension specialists share fond memories of their grandparents. We’ve also included some thoughts on why grandparents truly deserve this honored place in American life.

I went into gerontology because of my love for my grandparents. They were kind and loving and soft and spoke the “broken English” of turn-of-the-century immigrants from Russia, “the old country.” My Bubbe wore high-top laced-up orthopedic shoes and a white cardigan and always seemed to be at her stove. My Zayde always seemed to be seated at the head of the kitchen table going through slips of paper or reading the news in a Yiddish newspaper. Recently, several of my cousins of various ages had a spirited exchange on the email in which we shared our individual memories of our grandparents and the kitchen. So, despite having passed away in the 1950s, these elders are still alive in our memories. My grandparents gave me many gifts, including contact with a past I can feel in my bones. Another very special gift was being reflected in their eyes as worthy of their love, a cheerful little girl with a future in America. Luci Bearon, Associate Professor & Adult Development/Aging Specialist, NC Cooperative Extension.

Grandparents are a reflection of who we are and where we came from. My grandmother was never a “Granny”, “Grandma”, or “Nana” - she was always “Grandmother.” She was a tiny little woman from the mountains of Southwest Virginia. She was always a lady. On Sundays and special occasions she smelled of Estee Lauder's “Youth Dew” - a scent that will always make me think of her. She had the softest hands and I used to love the way her diamond wedding ring spun around her tiny finger. She had a sweet southern voice and I still get tickled when I think of how she pronounced my name “Say- rah”. She always had a Kleenex tucked in her belt, bra strap or sleeve, because you never knew when you might need one. She made the best fudge. She always let me and my brother eat the chocolate chip cookie dough. And she played a mean game of Canasta. Sarah Kirby, PhD, Associate Professor & Housing Specialist, NC Cooperative Extension.

Visiting grandparents was synonymous with family vacations for us. I didn't realize until I was an adult that people went other places like beaches and state parks! My maternal grandparents owned a hardware store. They owned a parakeet and took that bird to the store every day with them. His name was Dickie Boy and he could sing Happy Birthday. On our birthdays, Grandmother would call long distance and have Dickie Boy sing Happy Birthday over the phone. My grandfather was fondly referred to as Bookie (pronounced Boo-key) Even today we refer to my children as acting like Bookie. He was very outgoing, shaking hands and meeting everyone in a room. Even when we checked my grandparents into a residential health care center when they were in their mid-80's, he went around to each person in a wheel chair and shook hands like he was running for mayor! When my son was about 5 weeks old, Bookie was laying in a nursing home hospital bed. I placed my baby son in my grandfather's arms and he smiled. It was the only time Bookie held Shawn. But Shawn acts a great deal like Bookie today! Karen DeBord, Ph.D., Associate Professor & State Specialist, Child Development, NC Cooperative Extension

What do these stories tell us about the importance and role of grandparents?

Dr. Bearon notes:

“Taken together, these stories tell us that grandparents can inspire us, validate us and instruct us in what it feels like to be loved.

They can teach us about being different and unique.

They give us the opportunity and permission to sample life’s joys.

They connect us with our parents, siblings, cousins and our own children.

They connect us with the past and position us for the future.

And even when they pass on, they stay with us for our whole lives in memories so rich that we can almost hear, smell, see, taste or touch them and their surroundings.”