This was quite a summer. I didn’t get all the things done I had planned, but I did a lot of important things. Things I don’t regret one bit.
One of those things was saying goodbye to my grandmother. Grandma Long was 99 years old when she died in July — a month shy of her 100th — and was the cornerstone of my mother’s side of the family. I know I can’t claim much when it comes to Grandma Long; all the grandchildren except for me and my siblings lived in North Dakota by her. But I still knew I would regret it if I didn’t make it to North Dakota for her funeral. It was a long trip, but it was worth it.
Since we didn’t live in North Dakota, my parents tried to make sure my siblings and I got time with grandma and grandpa. I was the last one to spend significant time with them — six weeks over the course of the summer of 1991. She taught me a lot and I learned a lot about the value of hard work during that time.
But perhaps what I learned most from Grandma Long was what I ended up taking when I left. My mom asked if I wanted anything when I got ready to leave the farm this summer and I took…books. Ultimately that’s what I learned from grandma — the love of words on a page. Everywhere you went at grandma’s house, you could find a book, or a Reader’s Digest from 1986, or some other piece of literature.
Of course, I didn’t learn to read or fall in love with reading at grandma’s house, but her love of learning meant she was a teacher in a one-room school as early as the 1930’s. Her educational career spurred on her children — all four of grandma’s children (my mom, two aunts, and uncle) worked as teachers at one time or another. That educational line trickled down even further into my immediate family with my older brother and I both going into education with our wives working as teachers as well.
So when I had a look around, I didn’t want gold plated dishes, jewelry, or priceless heirlooms. I was grateful for a handful of books from her shelves. The books she surrounded herself with were dated for sure. (I have a story about a science report I attempted to research once at her house using World Book encyclopedias from 1960. About the Moon. The Moon. That we didn’t land on until 1969. Oy.) But while the copyright dates might have been from her childhood or even before, the knowledge was immeasurable. In an era before Kindles and Wikipedia, my grandmother had a library at her house. Her house in the middle of North Dakota miles away from the nearest town.
I hope that I can pass along my own love of knowledge and my passion for learning to my children and my students. When people look back at my life, can they say what we did for my grandmother? If they can say a tenth of what they did about her, I’d be honored.