The day after Christmas two of my favorite people show up on my doorstep; they appear unannounced like it’s going out of style. It’s kind of an “old-school bad-assary” vibe as they walk through the door. They have shunned all the hype about the ways of the interweb; social media is for idiots and sinners, and they are ‘keeping it real’ without the constant communication of cellular devices. They are like a couple of really sweet, familiar gangsters that roll up on you in the middle of the day while you’re wearing sweatpants, no bra, and a greasy top bun: they’re old, they do what they want. These are my grandparents.
I tell myself, as I feign a wide relaxed smile, that it’s okay to be loved for who I am. The kitchen is littered with last night’s dinner dishes, a shocker to any 50’s housewife. I wince at the thought of them focusing in on my holiday banner: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Feminists, People of Color and LGBTQ.” They probably wouldn’t sneak-attack visit me if I made more of a priority to go and visit them on the reg. But, since I don't (and clearly harbor some shame for my ingrate-granddaughter-ness) they have a pass to get all up in my business whenever they feel like it.
Well into their eighties, my grandparents come with all the quirks that most human beings suffer from at this advanced age: aches and pains are accumulating, minds are wandering, and little fucks are given about what is acceptable to say to people’s faces. On their surprise visit, prior to this one, my grandma picked up the Rad American Women A-Z book from our living room shelf and flipped quietly through the pages. She noted, with spitfire efficiency, that an honored lesbian woman was being celebrated on one of its pages. Dismissively, she tossed the book down onto my coffee table and turned to my grandpa. “Gene,” she said, not a bit under her breath, “they’re raising a bunch of queers.”
Obviously, these two beloved people have ways of thinking that are ingrained. I lack any true resolve to promote a progressive opposition. The ‘Fox News’ laced opinions that they share with me are just the tip of the iceberg. I hear the history in my grandparent’s judgments. My grandmother’s childhood looks like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath; families of farmers subsisting on the little fruits of their own labor. The only great thing about the midwest at this time is a depression. Folks are terrified by the changes in supposed “separate but equal” policies. My own great-grandmother depended on an orphanage to raise my grandma during some of her formidable teen years. Shit. Was. Real.
After my grandparents were married and anchored down in California suburbia, the honeymoon was short-lived. They were handed two young cousins to raise, as well as providing for the three children that they brought into this world on their own. There was a strict adherence to the literal reprimand of “spare the rod, spoil the child”. My grandpa spent long hard hours on the road as a trucker. Roosevelt's “New Deal” must have felt like a smack in the face to a man who had to choose between devoted husband, attentive father, or reliable provider. I feel a deep sadness for the young motherhood that my grandma had to traverse mostly on her own. I know my grandparents did the best they could with the lives they were given.
On this day, my children are blessed to have great-grandparents. They came to our house laden with presents, wrapped in paper and ribbons that would shame JC Penny’s gift wrapping department. I’m also pretty sure that the only reason Avon is still in business is due in part to my grandma’s loyalty. My four kids tore through the fancy packages to reveal an abundance of trinkets and toys. I am relieved that, for the most part, they manage to make eye contact and say thank you. My youngest buries her head in my stomach only for a moment, to burst into tears as the last presents are opened, and she can’t control her desire to have more. Oh, Christmas. I manage to say something humbling about expectations and kids. My grandma noticeably glances at my grandfather with a look of disapproval.
They have come like the wise men, suddenly there, bearing gifts and judgment, and Dollar Tree bread: two whites and two wheats, because they didn’t know which type we preferred. I thank them graciously and imagine the geese that we will feed this bread to at Bass Lake, the following day. I am well aware that a treasure trove of wisdom lies in these two worn vessels; they have lived entire lives, more than double my own. The deep well of memories I can draw upon to recall my youth is flooded with their presence: loving me as a child, guiding me as a teenager, and supporting me as a confused adult. No matter the circumstance, they have always been there to embrace me as one of their own.
I walk them slowly out to the driveway a short hour later. My grandma maneuvers out from her walker to get into the car as my grandpa unfurls a dozen dollar-store noodles out of his trunk and into my arms. I buckle the shrinking mother of my mother into the passenger seat, making sure she is comfortable. I glance at the Trump bumper stickers plastered across the dash; ‘Jesus is King’ dangles from a windchime attached to the rearview mirror. I fear that my grandpa’s view of the road will be obstructed, that they are too old to be so independent. I feel like we are miles apart from each other, even as I kiss my grandma’s cheek.
She tenderly grabs my children one by one and pulls them into her frail arms to plant kisses on their cheeks. She reminds us that not a day passes when she doesn’t pray for each of my family members by name (even the future queers). Maybe our very existence is a startling opposition to what they believe. Because we are family, they will love us first and quietly chastise us second. Hopefully, the takeaway will be that not all democratic, snob-bread-eating, non-believers are monsters. And I can look forward to the handful of times that I still have left to spend graced by their sudden presence in my life.