Remember, the key part of 'grandparent' is 'grand'

Contributing writerApril 7, 2013 

Pasqual Franco left Italy in 1898, promising he’d send for his wife and six children as soon as he made his fortune in the United States.

Fortunately, he was the well-educated son of a large and privileged family so his prospects were bright. His wife, Angelina, began packing.

Unfortunately, Pasqual’s training had prepared him only for the family occupation, which turned out to be riding around a small Italian village on a white horse. In America, he found few openings for a rider on a white horse, especially if the employer had to supply the horse. He couldn’t find anything suitable to his talents. Angelina unpacked.

Pasqual finally and reluctantly took a railroad job. The iron horse would have to do. At last he sent for Angelina. The family followed the rails across America to a homestead in Oregon. Angelina gave birth to seven more children. This was made more difficult by the fact that Pasqual was invariably afflicted with sympathetic labor pains and would take to their bed before she could get there.

Since Pasqual had never found an appropriate job, he did the only thing that seemed sensible to him: He stopped working altogether, leaving Angelina and their eight surviving children to run the farm. Pasqual spent his days strolling the land with a rifle in the crook of his arm. He was known to be a hard man and his children were terrified of him.

He was my grandfather.

Children aren’t much interested in history, so at age 5 I thought my grandpa was my personal playmate. He patiently wore complicated hats I made from fig leaves. I took him for long walks as his adult children watched our activities with a mixture of wonder and resentment.

My mother, the middle daughter of this couple, married a young drifter from Texas who loved her devotedly to the last day of her life. When my parents became grandparents, something strange happened. I became very critical of their parenting skills. I favored them with frequent helpful phone calls and letters outlining where they had gone wrong with my brother and me, enumerating the ways they ruined our lives. They were not as appreciative as I’d hoped.

Given my stated doubts, it might seem we wouldn’t have been eager to have these grandparents care for our children, but we could all hardly wait. We did leave a long list of instructions to be followed in minute detail. All in all, we were pretty insufferable. My mother took the children on enchanting adventures and my father told updated fairy tales and built an electric train that ran through the whole top floor of their house. They are family legends, which was right.

With grandkids, you get to be someone new. They don’t know about the stupid things you’ve done, and they figure that anyone who’s apparently lived since dinosaurs roamed the land must know something.

My 12-year-old grandson is a chess champion. He and his family are on the way to the SuperNationals at Opryland in Nashville. He tried to teach me to play chess and I attempted to take notes. He gave up in disgust. “She had to write everything down,” he told his father scornfully.

So far, the parents of all of my grandchildren have been gentle about pointing out where I went wrong.

Now my oldest son is a grandfather. That makes me a great-grandmother. I think I should go take a nap.

Now I’m not saying that grandparenting is the only way to get this wonderful feeling of being admired and adored. You could certainly pick something easier like being an international film star or something. But being a grandparent is better. And the wardrobe is much cheaper.

Don’t take my word for it. If you don’t have a grandkid, rent one. And if you’re not lucky enough to have a grandparent, go to the nearest senior center or assisted living community and spend time with people who carry memories from the days before you were born. Nothing is better than knowing that no matter what else goes wrong, tonight someone, somewhere will finish their prayers with, “God bless Grandma and Grandpa. And Great Grandma.”


Dorothy Wilhelm’s website is Reach her at 800-548-9264 or PO Box 881, DuPont, WA 98327. Email She is the author of a tiny book, “No Assembly Required.”

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