One of the best things for us in America was the fact that all four of my grandparents plus my dad, brother, aunt, and uncle were all living in the Seattle area, and we had the only little kids. Every weekend we would go to my maternal grandparents’ condo near the University of Washington. My grandfather had cancer, and they had in-home care. The helpers were co-opted into cooking and preparing for our visits. My grandmother’s cleaning lady/household assistant would take her shopping every week, and she always bought the stores out of the kids’ favorite foods: grapes and chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies. We usually had a large, hot lunch with my grandparents either Saturday at noon or Sunday after church.
My grandmother also bought the stores out of educational toys for the kids to play with at her house. We were not allowed to duplicate those toys at our house; they were only for trips to the condo. She bought a Thomas the Tank Engine train, building blocks in a wooden cart, and numerous other things. And she always had a stash of children’s books that she and my grandpa could read to the kids.
My grandparents were not really interested in talking to Yuni and me. They just wanted to watch the kids busily playing on the carpet in front of them. Yuni would frequently nap on the couch until it was time for our meal. When he was rested enough, he would get down on the floor and play with the kids’ toys, too, because, as he said, when he was growing up, his family had been too poor to have toys for the kids.
Every other Sunday we crossed the floating bridge from Seattle to Bellevue. We went to church near my dad’s condo and then visited him and his parents. We would eat at dad’s condo or have a picnic in a nearby park, and then we would go to the nursing home/apartment complex where Dad’s parents lived. Dad’s mother was in the apartment part, and her place was stuffed with toys for the kids, too. She bought the stores out of stuffed animals and dolls. She also specialized in Disney videos for the kids. They would watch Beauty and the Beast or Little Mermaid or Cinderella. The kids would sing and dance to their favorite songs. During visiting hours, we would go downstairs to the nursing home to see my dad’s father, who had suffered a stroke and was in a wheelchair. There were no toys on that floor, but the kids would sit on Gramps’s lap or turn somersaults on the floor. Their visits were a real highlight for him.
Birthdays and holidays were celebrated several times over with the two sets of grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles. The kids got loads of nice clothes and toys and gifts. They loved visiting the grandparents, and the grandparents loved interacting with them.
We had a number of adventures while visiting the old folks. The Sunday after the snowstorm, we were crossing the I-90 floating bridge on our regular visit to Bellevue. All of a sudden we noticed that the old floating bridge, which was undergoing repairs in its pontoons, was acting strangely. There had been lots of rain that had finally melted the snow, but for some reason the hatch covers of the pontoons under repair had been left open over the weekend. The chambers had filled with water, and the bridge was starting to sink. We watched as section after section began to settle to the bottom taking graders and tractors and cranes with it. The kids, of course, got very excited watching this from their car seats. Yuni was afraid that the currents of the sinking bridge would affect the new bridge that we were driving on. He hit the gas, and we sped out of there many miles over the speed limit. We got safely to the other side. At noon that day, we watched the whole thing again on the news while we were eating lunch at Dad’s place.
The floating bridge in 1940
Photo by Jet Lowe
HAER: Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Floating Bridge, Spanning Lake Washington at I-90, Seattle, King County, WA
The day after our trip to see the grandparents
Phil H. Webber/Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Then we got to watch repairs from our kitchen window
Another time, we were trying to get into my mother’s parents’ condo when all of Seattle seemed to be going to a Huskies football game. We were trying to turn left across two lanes of traffic without a light. The car in one lane waved us over, and there seemed to be no cars in the far right lane. We zipped across, but just as we were getting into the driveway, we got hit by a car speeding down the right lane, and our muffler got knocked off. No one was hurt, but we made an incident report to the police. In the end, it was our fault because we had been turning left. Yuni insisted that we go to traffic court and argue about it because he was sure that the other car was driving outside the lane on the shoulder. Unfortunately, we couldn’t prove anything and because we had been going uphill, the policeman found our muffler just inside the edge of the lane of traffic. It was a lesson for Yuni about how the US court system works. And I got my first taste of interpreting in court. We also learned the value of car seats for children.
Taking the kids to spend time with the great-grandparents was a big part of our lives for many, many years. Even after the great-grandfathers passed away, we continued making regular visits to the great-grandmothers. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it was very important. And I think it is an experience that many Americans miss because our culture does not like old. When I was growing up, I knew five of my eight great-grandparents. One of my great-grandmothers was the first white child born in O’Neill County, Nebraska. She had been conceived in Ireland and born here in the USA. One of her younger sisters was kidnapped by Indians. She was the eldest of 13 children, and she helped her father train horses. She and one of her sisters ran a boarding house for miners in Butte, Montana. Later, she was a seamstress and a cook at a health camp for children with tuberculosis. She lived to the age of 101 ½. She passed away when I was 16. She made complete formal wardrobes for all my dolls, taught me to bake bread, and encouraged me to learn songs in Gaelic from the nuns at school. My relationship with my great-grandparents and my grandparents was one of the best things in my life. I wanted that same blessing for my children.
Fortunately, my Chinese husband and father-in-law agreed with me that it was important for both the old folks and the young folks to forge that bond. Pa insisted that we come to America when he heard both my grandfathers were infirm. And once we were here, Yuni willingly drove us to spend time with the old folks every week. It was boring for him, but it was a value he agreed that the kids should have. It is hard to describe the benefits of being close to grandparents and great-grandparents. Every move a great-grandchild makes is a miracle to his or her great-grandparents. There is no judging, no pressure to perform, no anger at mistakes. The great-grandparents are simply filled with wonder that they have lived to see progeny of the fourth generation, and they are more than willing to wholly and absolutely dote on the children. Love once told me that the time spent with great-grandparents as a toddler and preschooler made her feel safe because she knew her family had a stable history. It also made her feel special, and it gave her an interest in history because she knew people who were old, and she wanted to know what life had been like when her great-grandparents were little kids.
I am not sure whose joy is greater in this relationship, that of the great-grandparents or that of the great-grandkids.