When the smell hits my nostrils, I’m instantly 5 years old again, sitting on his lap with my little sister. I remember his scratchy red flannel, a pipe constantly poking out of his shirt pocket.
I think of my great-grandmother whenever I eat an Oreo.
I remember her standing in her pantry, the shelves stocked with packages of chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies.
I remember her large, clip-on pearl earrings. A pink rotary phone. The delicate figurines lining the mantle in their upstairs parlor. The wood stove in their basement kitchen.
I remember my parents’ sadness when my great-grandmother began to forget our names and eventually lost her battle with Alzheimer’s. A few years later, we lost my great-grandfather, too.
By the time I was 7 years old, my family was just the four of us.
Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters and birthdays were my mom, dad, sister and me. It was the four of us for chorus concerts, graduations and soccer games.
It was my mom teaching us to cook and sew — I swear, despite my inability to do either well, she tried. And it was my dad taking us fishing and building birdhouses with us.
Our family history came in short bursts from my parents. A story from my dad about his late father, with whom I share a middle name. My mom talking about sleepovers with her grandmother, who didn’t speak English and taught her the only Czech she knows: “Go to bed.”
We had my Great Aunt Ellie, who stuffed us with homemade treats and pierogies. She would hug us tight and call us “her girls,” like a grandmother would’ve done. And we had our Great Uncle Eddie, who let us play with the cast-iron cars and trucks lining the shelves of his office every time we’d visit.
We had amazing godparents and a few “aunts” and “uncles,” the childhood friends of my parents. There was never a shortage of love growing up — just people.
Nearly three years ago, I finally met my grandparents.
Sure, they belong to my boyfriend, Kyle, but I don’t think he minds sharing. The first night I spent in Ohio with Gram and Pap, we played 500 Rummy around the table late into the evening. They went easy on me, despite being real card sharks.
Visits usually include at least one game of Rummy and them trying to teach me how to play Euchre for the 20th time. I stay up late while Gram yells at the TV during a NASCAR race and wake up early to read the newspaper on the couch next to Pap.
When I’m not there, Gram sends me pictures of Fritz, her cat, and religiously texts me every time she gets the latest issue of Smart.
They’ve made me part of family reunions, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Memorial Day celebrations. They’ve fed me Mehlman’s noodles and Gram’s strawberry shortcake. And, along with the rest of Kyle’s family, they’ve celebrated my birthdays, job successes and graduation like I was just another grandchild.
My parents made sure my sister and I never felt like anything was missing in our little family growing up. And I’m not sure I ever realized anything was until I met Gram and Pap.
I might have skipped over sleepovers at grandma’s as a kid and summer vacations spent under the watchful care of a grandpa, but I’m soaking up all the grandparent time I can now.
At 28, I’m not short on love or people.
And, especially today, I’m thankful for my Gram and Pap.
April Trotter is the editor of Smart magazine and wishes all the grandmas, grandpas, mimis, yia-yias, pop-pops and paps out there a very happy Grandparent’s Day. She can be reached at 717-771-2030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.