Sunday, August 3, 2014

Repost: Tazi's Corner #63 - In Memory And Praise Of Grandparents

Dear Readers:

The loss of a grandparent is never easy, but when we are children those losses are easier to take; we have not had enough time to get to know our grandparents as full and real people; they are just our grandparents, those old people that always seem to have time for us when Mom and Dad don’t. Many of us who lost our grandparents when we were very young only come to realize their importance in our lives after we have children of our own and see them frolicking with our parents, their grandparents. As my own Mommie said as she eulogized her Grandpa, “as children, we have more respect for our grandparents because unlike our parents, grandparents have always been old, so we don’t know how much time we are going to have with them; to a child, a grandparent could go at any time, so we appreciate them more”.

It was nineteen years ago this month that my Mommie lost her maternal Grandma to a valiant battle with breast cancer. This week would have been her birthday, so I am printing an essay she wrote that first year without her Grandma (because her Grandma was a cat person, God bless her soul!). Almost twenty years later, the words still ring true.


 In Memory of Bridget Jenny (Winiarski) Dybala 
October 30, 1921 -August 16, 1995 

My grandmother, Birdie (Winiarski) Dybala was a woman of many talents. No, she never performed a triple lutz for the Olympic gold, never hit a game-winning home run, or ran for a touchdown in the final seconds of overtime...she was not a great orator, a famous movie star, or even a career woman. Nor did she make millions of dollars designing clothes, founding a dot-com, or publishing a popular magazine that tells women they aren't good enough as they are. Her talents were much more valuable to society than any of that. She was a homemaker - a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a niece, a grandmother...and a friend. And she excelled at all she did.

As a wife Birdie took care of her husband, making sure that his house was well tended, his children well raised, and his good name enhanced by her actions. As a mother, she raised her four children by example, bringing them up to be upstanding members of society. She gave then wings to fly, and kept a nest for them to call home. Birdie Dybala was many things to many people, but it is as a grandmother that I knew her best.

Growing up, I spent as much time at my Grandma's house as I did at my own - or at least it felt that way. Sunny days were spent running through what seemed like (and probably was) acres of backyard, playing by the brook and the frog pond, picking wild blueberries, watching the neighbors tend their beehives, and walking through the woods to "the mucky river", a sewage drop off that was owned by the city and abutted her land. For some reason, the site that was this dumping ground fascinated me as only a child could be fascinated by that which society deems garbage.

On summer days, when the city pool was open, my brother and our best friends would go to swim, and then run around the corner to Grandma's house for lunch - there were no kids our age in Grandma's neighborhood, so she didn't mind when we "imported" them from our own. Nor did she mind when my younger cousins and I chased Frosty, her cat, under the couch in our attempts to cuddle him - but she never yelled at Frosty, either, for scratching us in self-defense. Although her grandchildren could do no wrong, she was a firm believer in personal responsibility. It is a lesson that sticks with me to this day...and makes me wish that my Grandma could have influenced more people than just those of her surrounding circle.

This is how I best remember Frosty!

I remember holidays at Grandma's house - every Easter, my cousin "M." used to try and "jump the brook" - a ribbon of water only three feet wide, but the Grand Canyon of my hometown to a young, mischievous child. Inevitably, he would fall into the water, shoes and all...but Grandma never got angry with him for messing up his good clothes. She believed that when a parent was around, discipline was their job - and that it was a Grandma's job to make everything all better. And she always did.

No matter what the problem, my grandmother always knew how to fix it (and the solution generally involved a bowl of her famous home-made chicken soup!). Seriously, though...sometimes, she would tell us what we wanted to hear, knowing that the problem was one that would solve itself in time; other times, she told us what we needed to hear. The Wisdom of Solomon she did posses, but never did she give unsolicited advice. She knew if she was patient, we would eventually confide in her. After all, she was Grandma! And boy, weren't we surprised to find out she knew things we thought were a "secret".

As I grew older, I became the stereotypical sullen teenager - with everyone, even Grandma. The only difference was, with her I felt guilty about it and worked to change my attitude...because never once did Grandma lose her temper with me; never once did she walk away to give me some "alone time"; never once did she make me feel like I had done something wrong when my fluctuating hormones were in fact to blame. In fact, she did just the opposite - she worked harder to be supportive and understanding of me. And anyone who has ever been or has ever known a 13-year old girl knows how downright impossible that can be to even try, let alone accomplish! But Grandma did it! Not only with me, but also with all her other grandchildren!

Grandma also indulged my child-like side, taking me to see Disney movies that I was "too old" to go see with my friends (it just wasn't "cool"!)...and she would let me publicly blame her for "dragging me to see them" when my friends caught me enjoying it!

Whenever I needed a ride to or from an after-school activity, it was Grandma who was there to chauffeur me; whenever it rained (or was even cloudy for that matter) it was Grandma who helped me with my paper-route; and when I decided 5 days before my 9th grade formal that I wanted to go after all, it was Grandma who helped Mom to sew my dress, and got it completed on time for the big night.

After I learned to drive, I made sure to visit Grandma frequently, as I missed my after-school time with her. She always made my teenage angst seem minimal. I always felt safe when I was with Grandma, like no hurt could ever touch me - not my parents divorce, not missing out on the lead in the school play because I was too young, not the heartbreak of the boy I liked turning me down for my senior prom...

My Grandma had a way of making everyone she came in contact with feel special. I still remember the time, when I was about four years old, that I complained I was too young to ever get mail. She started saving all the junk mail that came to her house. If it was addressed to "Occupant" or "Resident" it was mine!

By high school, though, I was starting to receive mail of my own in the form of college catalogs - more than I could handle, and in more ways than one. Did I leave my home to move across the country? Would my grades be good enough to get into my top choice school? How was I going to pay for it all? Grandma's responses were, "No", "Yes", and "Don't worry about it". Had my Guidance Counselor said all that, I would have given him a withering look...but when Grandma said it, I could tell she meant it. I think it was her sincerity that was so comforting to me - and during the first few weeks of my freshman year, when I caught sick with meningitis, I learned that no matter what the distance, Grandma would be there to take care of me when I needed her. It comforts me that I was able to return the kindness a few years later, when she took sick with the cancer that eventually took her from my family and me.

Grandma died before she could see me walk across the stage to receive my (first) degree, but I know she was there in spirit as well as in my heart. It was always her dream for me to complete my schooling and to follow my dreams - wherever they led me, as long as they didn't lead me too far from my family...or from her. And I am proud to say that she is with me even more now than she was back then.

My Grandma raised me according to her values - which, when I was young I found to be hopelessly old-fashioned. Now, as an adult, I don't find them to be hopeless; and I see nothing wrong with "old-fashioned". Living my life according to my Grandma's ways has helped me earn the respect of others - and the respect of myself. 

She taught me that having standout domestic skills does not make me any less of a feminist; and that being a feminist does not make me any less feminine.

She taught me to work hard for what I wish to achieve, to never settle, but to make sure that what I am working for is what I really want.

She taught me that, as a woman, it is possible for me to have a career and a family - but was honest enough to let me know that it is nearly impossible to do justice to both. Choose wisely.

She taught me to stand up for myself and in what I believe - even if it is not the popular choice.

She taught me to never allow a man to push me around, physically or mentally.

She taught me to be chaste enough to not only be respected by men, but by other women as well.

But most importantly, my Grandma taught me that when you love someone enough, you want to do for them...that no matter how much they anger you, you will always be able to keep your temper in check and your voice down...that with love, even the biggest problems can be shrunk down to size...and that a bowl of home-made chicken soup can really put life's problems into a manageable prospective.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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