My grandparents were never like the others. My grandma shared a dark brunette bob like my sister and mother for most of my childhood— de-aging her for all spectators who had the privilege to witness our interactions. My grandfather, likewise, was notorious for scooping up our friends and putting them in funky places on the playground; all my friends loved when he’d watch us. And even since their origin as grandparents, they’ve been slightly different than others. We call my grandma “Sisi” because my sister and I who struggled with speech-based communication called “ice cream” “sisi”… when my mom hoping we would bond with our grandma told her she could feed us ice cream every time she came over— the name stuck. And Poppy, who has a million different nicknames from all his wild adventures, was equally good at bribing us. I remember trips to the local health-food store Whole Earth for oatmeal raisin cookies; letting my sister and I sit in the front seat of his hold pickup we felt like the coolest criminals ever.
When my grandparents moved to their funky one-story just two blocks away from us, decorated in exotic furniture and artwork from all of their world travels, we began to see them even more. From kindergarten to the very end of fifth grade they’d wake up early, rain or shine, and walk us to school. The now five-minute walk seemed like a whole expedition back then. We’d cross neverending streets full of racing cars and monstrous trucks. We’d jump over cracks in the sidewalk, careful to not miss a single one as if they were bell-buoys guiding a ship in a foggy storm. Up the treacherous hill that might as well have been Mount Everest, we put all of our might towards getting to the summit. As we got older, our hairstyles changed and bodies began to feel different— pushing away stuffed animals and embarrassing hobbies we matured and cared about new things. But we always wanted the grandparents to walk us to school.
Along the journey, just after crossing the four-way street with the help of our loved crossing guard Mr. Andy, was a set of manicured planted trees in front of the Municipal building for our town. It was there, where we’d stash our favorite sticks that we found along our journey. In our logic, hiding a stick among trees was the perfect camouflage— and the grandparents adamantly agreed with our position. Every day we’d walk by the tall trees and pull out our favorite sticks stashed between the branches. We’d hold them and admire their beauty as the most perfect sticks we could ever imagine. Then, we’d lay them back down among the branches still connected to their trunk and roots, telling them to wait patiently until tomorrow when we’d come back again. These sticks surprisingly lasted years. Every school day we’d stop and talk to them, making sure they were okay in all of the intense weather that seemed so treacherous. Sisi and Poppy would talk to them too, hold them in between their hands, and stroke their aging, splintered textures. It was their infantilization of these worthless stray pieces of wood that encouraged our continued empathy for their existence I believe.
That playfulness and empathy towards that which is otherwise ignored by the majority of society are some of the many traits I’ve inherited and learned from my grandparents. I remember hugging and naming bronze tiger statues on Princeton University’s campus that we’d explore after Small World dates full of ginormous blueberry muffins. I remember waking up early from sleepovers at their house and playing with foreign instruments they’d confiscated on one of their global adventures. But mostly, in comparison to other grandparents, I valued mine as my best friends.
As we get even older and the shapes of our bodies begin to settle, brunette bobs inevitably fade to gray, climbs up Mount Everest become few and far between, I still value these experiences I had as a child. For me now, I feel in a position to be what they were for us when we were little: masters and wizards that could enable any fantasy to happen. I want to listen to their stories and let them relive that same fantastical joy they provided for us as children. And so that’s what I can do: listen and write. Document these stories before they are forgotten.
Merry Christmas Sisi and Poppy.