Tag Archives: grandparents

Family moments across the miles

7:40 this morning, just after I get out the shower, skype rings on my laptop. It’s my grandparents, playing with their brand new iPad.

When I answer, my grandparent’s living room pops up and I can see my mother and grandfather peering, puzzled, straight into the camera.

Me: “Hello?”

Pa: “Now how do you…”

Me: “Hello?”

Mum: “Don’t press that one!”

Me: “Hello? Can you hear me?”

Pa: “Well, where’s the other little thing?”

Me: “Hello? Did you call me?”

Mum: “It’s somewhere down the bottom there.”

Me: “You called me accidentally, didn’t you. And you can’t hear me.”

Pa: “I can’t find it.”

Me: “OK then, I’m just going to hang out around here until you figure things out.”

Mum: “No, not that one!”

Pa: “Bugger.”

Mum: “Oh, look. There’s Lisa. She’s, uh, got her bra on.”

Pa (laughing): “She’s getting dressed.”

Me: “Oops, I didn’t think the camera showed that far.”

Pa: “Why can’t we hear her?”

Mum: “I’m sure the volume switch is around here somewhere.”

Four minutes later, they finally find the volume switch and I find the rest of my clothes. Pa tells me all about the chook shed he is building for my cousin, and Nanna tells me about all the delicious baking she did for family Christmas. Then Mum takes control of the iPad.

Mum: “I’m going to show you something that will make you homesick.”

Me: “Great, thanks, that’s just what I need.”

Mum turns the iPad around so that I can see one of my favourite views in the world – the river out my grandparent’s window. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day. The tide is in and the water and sky are both a clear, shiny blue.

Mum: “Can you see the guy waterskiing?”

Me: “Yes, I can see him.”

Mum: “And the dog?”

Me: “There’s a dog waterskiing?”

Mum: “No, not waterskiing, on the footpath.”

Me: “Oh, OK. Yup, I can see that dog.”

Mum: “So do you feel homesick?”

Me: “Yes, yes I do actually. Thanks for that.”

It seems that you no longer need to be on the same continent as your family to experience classic family moments during the holidays.

And that?

Priceless.

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Stories we tell our grandchildren

It’s been a busy week on this side of the world. I’m juggling two consulting projects from the kitchen table here in Laos, both for clients in London. One of the projects is reviewing training material for workshops running in Sudan and Chad next week. Sudan, incidentally, is where my father headed off to for two months yesterday on his own consulting project. The world seems very small sometimes. Well, except when you’re flying across the Pacific – then it seems enormous. Or when you stop and think about the fact that your immediate family is once again scattered over four continents.

OK, the world is not that small come to think of it. But thank God for the internet, and for skype. One of these days I will write an Ode to Skype. I will.

Did you know that when I first went to University in Sydney (way back in 1995) I wrote weekly letters back to my parents – who were about as far away as they could get, in Washington DC – and received weekly letters back? I sometimes also used to receive cartoons that my mother had clipped from the Washington Post and stuck in an envelope and posted with nary a note inside. Not even a scrawled, “Thinking of you. Love you”. This practice invariably made me roll my eyes. We didn’t even have our own individual phones in our dorm rooms. Nine of us that lived in the same group shared a phone in the common room that could only receive incoming calls. So on Sunday mornings I used to hang around the dorm waiting for my parents to call in. Sometimes we connected, sometimes we didn’t.

Mike and I were talking the other day about the stories that we might tell our grandkids. My grandparents tell stories about not finishing high school. Or getting married at twenty and then having him go off to fight in WWII two weeks later and not coming back for two years. Or owning and working a sugar cane farm, and the year that there was a huge flood and the barn burned down. My father talks about growing up on a dairy farm, and how it was a special treat to have chicken on Christmas day, and how he had to milk all the cows before and after school. My mother talks about going to school in a three-room schoolhouse down the road with 40 other kids.

These stories fascinate me. I can remember this sugar cane farm – my mother’s parents didn’t move off it until I was about thirteen – and I briefly attended this tiny school in between the time we lived in Bangladesh and the first time we moved to Washington DC. I’ve glimpsed these lives, but they haven’t really been mine. I feel that way a lot, actually – that I’ve glimpsed many, many different lives, but most of them haven’t really been mine. This process of figuring out what sort of life has been and is mine remains an ongoing one.

Mike and I decided the stories that would probably seem as foreign to our grandkids as stories of two-year separations during World War II seem to us, would be the stories about LBTI – Life Before The Internet. It will probably be inconceivable to our children, not to mention our grandchildren, that this time existed before computers in homes, before email, skype, and mobile phones, before the bone deep assurance that you can reach almost anyone, almost anywhere, as quickly as you want and need to.

I reckon these stories – the ones about handwriting school assignments in eleventh grade, researching papers using only our set of encyclopedias, penning letters home in University, scheduled weekly phone calls that sometimes didn’t happen, and years spent in overseas countries when my parents could only call their parents very infrequently (and it cost the moon) – these are the stories that will smack of science fiction. They will force these children to imagine a world very different from the one that they know.

What do you think? And what sorts of stories have your parents and grandparents told you? Does the world that they grow up in seem foreign or familiar?

In which we talk about animals

On Tuesday afternoon Mum and I drove into Ballina to have tea with my grandparents. My grandfather is 86 now and my grandmother 85. Every year that I say goodbye to them after visiting I wonder if it will be for the last time. I know they’re thinking about it too, because my Pa’s always making jokes about how he’s an old workhorse about ready to be put out to pasture to die (mind you, he’s usually making this joke right after he’s been out and about on the property up here mowing the lawn or fixing things or otherwise getting up to active mischief).

I often don’t know quite what to say when Pa makes these comments, but sometimes I remind him he’s been talking like this for about 15 years now. Maybe longer.

“Well then, one of these days soon it’s bound to be true, isn’t it,” Pa says. Then he grins a cheeky grin and his green eyes twinkle. “Would you like another bit of sponge cake with that tea, love?”

My Pa is a sunny soul.

So every time I come home I’m thrilled that they’re still around, not least because if they weren’t I wouldn’t get a front row seat to delightfully random welcome-home conversations like this one:

“Oh,” Nana said, hugging me to herself tightly after I stepped through the door. “Oh. You’re here. You never change. Have you lost weight, dear?”

“Well, well, well,” Pa said, hugging me next. “Look who the cat dragged in.”

“Speaking of cats,” I said, staring past Pa’s shoulder and out the window, entranced, at the giant cotton puff lurking in the bushes below, stalking the birds. “That is the most enormous white cat. You haven’t adopted a cat, have you?”

“Nah,” Pa said. “He gets around here sometimes, climbs up the brick and stares at us through the window. Generally makes a nuisance of himself.”

“Oh,” Nana said. “The cat’s nothing compared to the gigantic crocodile we saw up the tree yesterday. Tell her Alan.”

“That was a goanna,” Pa said. “Not a crocodile.”

Gigantic!” Nana said, not missing a beat. “Six feet long.”

“It was six feet long,” Pa agreed. “All the birds were going crazy, squawking and shrieking. Way worse than with that cat.”

“Did you take a photo?” I asked. “I’ll put it on the blog. I’ve got a snake-like animal sub theme going.”

“No,” Pa said, regretful.

“That reminds me,” my mother said to her parents. “I have to clarify something. Remember when I showed you that photo of the snake from Laos and told you that Lisa took it?”

“Mum,” I said, horrified, “you didn’t, did you? I said quite clearly in the post that I never saw that snake myself, only the photo of it.”

“Yes, well,” Mum waved her hand, “sometimes it doesn’t pay to read things too carefully, that only ruins a good story. And it was such a lovely story I was telling people, too, about how Mike had found this huge snake – practically in your backyard – and fetched you to see it, and you’d taken this amazing photo, and then they cut the snake open and there was a person inside. Until your father told me it wasn’t true and that you’d never actually seen the snake yourself.”

“How many people did you tell this to?” I asked.

“Not many,” Mum said. “Not more than a dozen, I’m sure.”

“What about the man inside?” Pa asked. “Was that part true?”

“That part was true,” I confirmed.

“Anyway,” Nana said, “back to the crocodile up the tree.”

“The goanna,” Pa said.

“The goanna,” Nana said. “I was lying in bed that night and I couldn’t sleep, and all of a sudden I started thinking about how if it could get up the tree like that, quick as anything,” (here Nana demonstrated just how quickly the goanna ascended the tree with a series of frantic scrabbling motions) “then it would probably get in the house next.”

Mum and Pa both dissolved in laughter.

“How, love?” Pa asked between snorts.

“Walk right up the front steps and in the door, I’d say,” Mum said.

“Or maybe up the brick to the second story and eat it’s way straight through the window,” Pa said, gnashing his teeth.

“Impossible to stop, really,” Mum said. “It’s probably lurking around here somewhere right now. Oh, wait, I think I might hear it in the kitchen!”

Nana folded her hands primly and completely ignored them. That couldn’t have been easy, with all the cackling they were still doing.

“You never know,” she said, darkly.