It wasn’t that long ago I told my son I was sad his childhood was not nearly as good as mine, and not just because I wasn’t part of a historical event like a pandemic as a teenager.
I was truly apologetic when I said it.
He wasn’t sure what I meant.
He’s from the generation that has never not had a cell phone, video games were the norm, and instead of complaining about the high costs of cable, practically every house has Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming channels on multiple devices.
My youth may as well have been spent walking 20 miles one way in the snow or bunkering in a cave compared to his technological life.
But I had something he hasn’t had the luxury of having – I was surrounded by family.
Even though I was an only child, I was lucky enough to have my uncle and grandparents with me.
Everyone knows a grandparent’s prime directive is to spoil their grandkids rotten. Granny and Pop didn’t necessarily spoil with me things, but they made sure I felt loved.
As an added bonus of having them and my uncle Bobby, I also had Granny’s brothers around quite often.
It was an era of things being on the cusp of the big technology boom – computers were starting to be available for the home – with one foot still in a time where family was the heart of most social events.
Even though I enjoyed being an only child, I was often envious of Granny being from a big family.
Out of all her siblings, it was her brothers she seemed to be the closest.
Two of Granny’s brothers especially stood out in my life.
G.E., Granny’s brother who looked like a doppelganger of Harrison Ford, but with jet black hair, was quite the prankster. Many mornings during the summer, he would come over to have coffee with his sister and would drag me out of bed to come and listen to stories of buck-jiving as he called it - tall tales full of facts so strange they had to be true.
Anytime I had some wild project I couldn’t get anyone else on board with, Uncle G.E. was all in.
One summer, I decided to redo my bedroom. For years, the walls had been graffitied by my friends and I, with drawings, sayings and song lyrics, but a word war broke out and it was time to cover it.
We tried wallpapering.
“You’ve got so much mess on these walls, even wallpaper isn’t going to stick,” he told me, surveying the mess after hours of us laboring.
“What are we gonna do?” I cried.
“I’ll figure something out,” he promised.
The next morning, he showed up bright and early and took me to the paint store. After looking at our options, he found a couple of gallons of a paint that was marked way down because whoever originally got it didn’t like the color.
I didn’t blame them; it was a horrific shade of Pepto-Bismol pink.
“I don’t like pink,” I protested, crinkling my nose. “Pink is not my signature color.”
He looked at me over his glasses. “You know what your Granny would say don’t you? You get what you get, and you don’t pitch a fit.”
I got a Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom and was glad to get it.
While Uncle G.E. was always gung-ho for whatever crazy idea I had, Granny’s brother, Almond, was more of a grounding source.
When he found out I couldn’t swim, he promptly tossed me in his lake.
Within minutes, he was fishing my chubby self out.
“You gotta learn how to swim child,” he said. “I have never seen someone sink like you did.”
I had many a pup from his farm, as he would give me a puppy whenever his shepherd or Border collie had a litter.
He was truly one of Granny’s rocks through the years, being the one that checked on her constantly once my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
I don’t know how, but anytime my grandfather was rushed to the hospital, Almond and his wife would often beat us there.
One night, it was mama who was taken in unexpectedly. Bobby attributed it to her foolishly eating yet another vending machine hot dog, but said they were calling in a specialist.
I frantically made that drive home up I-85, knowing there was no such thing as a vending machine hot dog specialist.
When I got there, mama was in surgery for ovarian cancer.
“Almond and Louise are here,” Granny told me.
I found them in the waiting room, where Uncle Almond looked up at me with his eyes glistening. “Is Jeannie OK?” he asked.
Seeing his concern stayed with me all these years.
He had been in that same hospital waiting room countless times, waiting to hear how my grandfather was doing, or for news about his sister. He’d always tell me Granny and Pop were strong and tough and they would be fine. He reassured me they would be okay, because if nothing else, Granny had to try to keep us straight.
But this time, knowing it was a niece he had watched grow up, when he was a parent himself, it hit him a little differently.
Granny missed that rock steady presence in her life when he passed away. We all did.
I shared a photo on Facebook the other day of Granny holding my son as a baby.
My cousin commented on the resemblance between our grandparents, and suddenly, all these memories came pouring back.
“They don’t make them like that anymore,” I commented.
And they truly don’t.