My maternal grandmother was half mad. I always liked the sound of that when I read it in a book. So and so was half mad. Do you suppose that is a real diagnosis? Is half mad like being a little pregnant? My grandmother, Gamma, was a prim and proper, elegant lady with a twisted disposition. The twisted part was directed at her husband, our grandfather. When her rage boiled over, she shattered teacups and saucers at her husband’s feet, then demanded he sweep up the mess. He did, in silence. I don’t know how often she inflicted this upon him, as there were always a ready supply of cups and saucers. Perhaps she shopped often for replacements. Barely into our double digits we were mute witnesses, far too young to wonder about their marriage, and the perceived injuries behind her tantrums. Who can judge another’s marriage, anyway?
Half mad or completely insane, it mattered not, Gamma loved us, and we loved her back. She and Grandpop, and their black cocker spaniel, lived one block from the Atlantic Ocean in a small beach cottage. When we traveled as a pack to the beach, we took turns; one of us held the docile dog in our arms, while another held the leash. Six little girls in swimsuits. The neighbors stepped onto their screened-in porches to contemplate the procession.
Our greatest thrill, other than building sand castles by the waves, was our sleeping quarters. A ladder unfolded from the ceiling. This both mystified and enchanted us. We scrambled up to a retreat so cozy our mother never had to coerce us to bed. Even more remarkable, we rarely argued or fought while visiting Gamma, even when a sleeping bag accidentally overlapped that of a sister. The waves whispered and we nodded off.
My father’s mother, such sweet memories we have of her. A big woman with a demeanor that fit the stereotype: round and jolly. One by one we filed out of the station wagon when we arrived to visit, and Nana was there to hand us a fistful of dollars. We took off at a run to the ice cream shop. One cylindrical cardboard container of vanilla, another of chocolate, and a big bag of pretzel sticks later, we ambled back, dipping and crunching, no spoons necessary.
We loved them both, differently but equally. So, when I learned of Noah, a 12-year old boy from Wisconsin who helped his grandmother get up to date on her mortgage payments, I dusted off the memories of my own grandmothers, and placed them, like bookends on a shelf.
Noah from Wisconsin grew up hearing, “I wish I could be Noah.” Dozens of foster kids cycled through his grandmother’s house over the years. Noah grew up knowing how fortunate he was to have his grandmother, and his parents, as his safety net. The foster kids had no one.
The century old house his 72-year old grandmother lives in was the birthplace of her mother. When the house needed a new roof, she withdrew a chunk of her savings. Cue the unexpected event no one can prepare for: Noah’s grandmother fell ill. Health care took precedence over the mortgage.
When Noah was 9 years old his mother challenged him to perform one community service act each year. It clicked with Noah. It seemed to him the right thing to do. So, when his grandmother needed help, it was obvious to Noah that he was the one to provide it. With the help of his mother he set up a website, Noah’s Dream Catcher Network. Within a month Noah raised $10,500, enough to save his grandmother’s house from the auction block! One month!
In this age when our youth look to popular culture for role models, and settle on Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber, or heaven forbid, Snooki, isn’t it heartening that boys like Noah look to their grandmothers, and recognize the value in what they do with their lives?
Thanks for listening!
Who were your role models? Your parents? A celebrity? Your grandmother?