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Celebrating the roots of a traveling family

March 13, 2011

Just after Christmas, we had a visitor who came bearing gifts from afar. Among them was a packet from my mother with thirty-three postcards from my paternal grandmother (plus one I wrote to her as a child but never mailed.) They are dated from May 1984 to August 1998. I was surprised and incredibly pleased to see them. Several years ago, in a cleaning fit, I threw away a stack of postcards (one of those “What am I ever going to do with these?” moments) and have never ceased to regret it.

The first postcards are sent from Binghamton, NY, where my grandparents lived when I was a child, and places like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the United Nations Building, and Niagara Falls. If she wasn’t traveling, she would send a note with a bird (one of her favorite things) or some other cute picture. The births of several of my cousins are chronicled on the backs of these cards.

From the postcards, I can journey up and down the east coast with her and my grandpa. The lighthouses, specifically in Maine, were her favorites, and, while she thought they were incredibly elegant, she couldn’t imagine riding around the Pennsylvania countryside in a carriage.

Around 1988, I perk up. She is starting to go places I have also gone. Her sisters live in California, and postcards from Highway One, Laguna Beach, and La Jolla start showing up. She sends another note from Pittsfield, MA – the setting of many of my father’s childhood tales (including the one about the still-unidentified monster that came crashing out of the lake while they were ice fishing) and a town I drove through in recent years with Adri.

As I continue to read, I am overwhelmed by the heritage I have been given by my grandparents – one rich in travel and love of family. My grandma has fifteen grandchildren – six of them in my family. Being one of many can be difficult sometimes, but with my grandma, I always knew that she would think of me. Every trip she took, she sent me a postcard. As they began traveling overseas, they often brought back gifts for each of us.

 

 

This brings me to the second reason I was so happy to get these cards. Many years ago, after a trip to Jerusalem, Grandma gave me a necklace. It wasn’t the first necklace she gave me, but after our house fire on Christmas 1994, it was the only one I had. The fire started next to the bed Joy and I shared, burning its way through the floor to the crawlspace below, and baking everything else in the room we shared with Christine. All my special things had been on a table next to my bed, so we dug through the piles of ash under the house trying to salvage anything. This pendant was the only thing I found.

 

 

Through all my travels and work as a flight attendant, I have only seen two similar pendants. It has been a great conversation starter, and with a few exceptions, it has been around my neck every day for the last 15 years. It has seen every exciting country and every lame flight attendant overnight I’ve ever had. This may sound morbid, but I would bet there are twenty people who could identify my body based solely on this pendant.

After having enough people question me about it, I learned that it is called a Jerusalem or Crusader cross. It is a Greek cross (cross whose arms are equal lengths) with four small crosses. The larger cross stands for Jesus Christ and the four small ones represent either the four Gospels or the four corners of the earth. It was the coat of arms for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Our faith is another piece of the heritage they are passing on.

So, every day when I wear this necklace, when it hits me in the faces as I attempt awkward yoga poses, when I get sunburned and it leaves a white square on my chest, when I hold someone’s child and they inevitably try to shove it in their mouths, it reminds me of my family. And, specifically my grandma.

It reminds me that she and Grandpa loved to travel. It reminds me that we share a middle name – Jean, a slightly wicked sense of humor, a love of the raspberries in her garden, and an interest in herbs and plants. It reminds me that postcards and letters are still important.

And as I write, I think of both of my grandparents and all the writing they have done over the years. My grandma didn’t just send postcards. A birthday card was guaranteed, and notes on Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving were highly likely. All the while she is sending notes and postcards, my grandpa is writing bi-weekly family letters – chronicling their lives and the lives of his many friends, children and grandchildren.

Recently, when we were in Phu Quoc, I woke up and my neck felt too light. My pendant had fallen off – something I’ve worried about for years. It was, strangely enough, the morning after I exchanged a few emails with my Grandpa chatting about how much we loved Grandma and how she doesn’t remember as much stuff as she used to. Thankfully, I found the cross in the bed and it was quickly back on my necklace where it belongs.

Today is my grandma’s 86th birthday. I wish I could hug her and take a walk with her around the pond by their old house. We could watch Jeopardy, listen to the clock that has a different bird call for each hour, go through shells she’s collected, and talk about books. I hope she knows how much she means to all of us and that we are all much better children, siblings, lovers of nature, travelers, and people because of her.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2011 03:26

    This is such a beautiful post. Very well written and a touching story.

    It reminds me of my grandmother who is now gone as well. She also loved to travel and my family says I got the travel bug from her.

    I think grandmothers were happy to know how much we cared and were proud of us too.

    I love postcards too and send them to my younger cousins whenever I’m away. I hope it will encourage them to travel when they are older and that they’ll have something to remember me by for many years to come.

    • March 13, 2011 23:10

      Isn’t it funny how, the older we get, we start to see where our interests and traits come from? We discover through postcards, journals, or stories that our grandparents (aunt, cousin, whoever) was doing some really cool traveling when they were our age as well.

      Great hearing from you :-) I need to get to work on some postcards.

  2. Candice A permalink
    March 13, 2011 11:59

    Grandmothers are the most precious people we have in our lives…. I’m convinced of it. I keep every letter and every card I get from her.

  3. Mary Holby permalink
    March 13, 2011 21:49

    This is beautiful like you and her. And so true. Thank you.

    • March 14, 2011 12:52

      Thank you, Mama. And, like you too. There is so much to be proud of and thankful for on both sides of our family.

  4. Dorothy permalink
    March 15, 2011 22:25

    I enjoy so much reading about your adventures and exploits in Vietnam Grace but this one has touched my heart. Your prose is witty and lively, much like you, with touches of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. Your writings about your family are warm and thoughtful and thought-provoking. It’s a delight to see the world through your eyes. Keep writing and entertaining us with your travels and keep warming our hearts with your poignant insight and self-reflection. You, my friend, are a GREAT writer.

    • March 21, 2011 19:07

      Thank you so much, Dorothy. It’s always wonderful to hear from you and I really appreciate the words of encouragement :-)

  5. karen permalink
    March 16, 2011 08:03

    Once again, I just have to tell you that I do so enjoy your writing!!! This one is especially sweet, and such a reminder to this Nana how important the impressions I leave on my awesome grandkids are!!! I just felt the special love and admiration you have for your Grandmother and I am sure she is so proud of you!!

  6. Charity permalink
    March 30, 2011 12:46

    This is a beautiful post and brought tears to my eyes, Gracie! Grandmothers are such special women! I miss mine terribly, but rejoice that they are in a much better place!

    The regret of throwing away those postcards is one that keeps me from just throwing away a few boxes of my stuff…. I want to be sure I don’t regret it!

    Looking forward to seeing you and giving you a big hug! xoxo

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