A letter to my grandchildren:
Hello, you six. We’re getting along here just fine, connecting with friends outdoors or by phone or electronically, but when it comes to you guys it’s quite hard to accept that that’s the only way we can be together.
Farmer Bob just called to see if I wanted a turkey. It was good to hear his voice (he’s very full of life!), but hard to know what to say. We haven’t officially pulled the plug on Thanksgiving, but we’re close. If we can’t have the usual thunder of feet in the upstairs hall or the ruckus of a wiffle ball game on the lawn, do I really want to cook a turkey?
Do we carry on our family traditions? Do we read “When Father Carves the Duck” out loud? Make place cards with a half grapefruit, a construction paper turkey head and a tail made of tracings of your hands? Do we get out my sister’s needlepoint with “Over the river and through the woods” stitched into it?
Do we go the whole nine yards for just the two of us: turkey, mashed potatoes, peas, creamed onions, Nana’s rolls, cranberry sauce (homemade whole berry and store-bought jellied), pumpkin pie and apple squares? Do we get out the special plates, the candles, the “good” silver? Do we sit at opposite ends of the dining room table, just the two of us, and try to get the meal down with a box of Kleenex at the ready? Or do we have a PBJ in the kitchen and call it good?
You “littles” are sad, I know, but you have ways of getting through disappointment. You’ll get on your bikes or put on the dance music or call a friend. The “middles” (your parents) have a harder time. They are old enough to understand that these moments of being together are precious, and fleeting, and limited. You do not yet know what it is like for two generations to sit on the porch and watch the pandemonium of six of you renewing your cousin-hood. And us, the “grands?” Every year means more than the last.
So, do we take those of you who are willing and able to come and keep our fingers crossed? Do we crowd into the house together? Do we hold an outdoor Thanksgiving picnic? Or do we say it just won’t work this year? Your parents (and some of you!) have jobs that require showing up in person. The rest of you are back in school, full time or intermittently. Your grandfather and I, believe it or not, are in the high-risk age category. Your parents are as worried about us as we are about you.
Just two days ago was Election Day. As I’m writing this, I don’t know the outcome. Maybe we still don’t. You have emerging thoughts about all of that. Some of you are developing opinions of your own. Some of you are still mostly picking up your notions from your parents, and maybe your grandparents.
I think of your great-grandfather, a man who loved American history and had an abiding faith in our country and our government. I think of your great-grandmother, a woman celebrated for her quiet kindness. Both would have been devastated to see what has become of us as this storm of an election rages on.
We have watched your parents teach you the importance of honesty, decency, fairness and kindness, just as we tried to teach them. We are proud that they live out those ideals — now that they’ve gotten beyond the teenage years, anyway! We hope you will be like them in those important ways, and you are showing all the signs that you will be.
To the extent that we emphasize those values, what must you think of what you see and hear from so many of our country’s leaders today? How can you believe that truth, thoughtfulness and rational thinking are important when so few of those who purport to lead us practice those virtues?
Mr. Rogers’ advice was that when disaster strikes, look for the helpers. There will always be some around you. It will be us for as long as we can be, or you need us to be, and also your parents, the teachers you respect and the friends you have chosen.
I hope that each of you will be a helper, too. I know you have it in you. I have seen you be brave and inventive and quick to act when help was needed. We are likely to need a particularly hearty brand of helper in the years ahead, so when trouble comes, be a helper. Then I’ll know that we have made something important together.
Lots of love,