“Do you have a girlfriend? How about a boyfriend? What are you majoring in, again?”
If you’ve repeatedly heard these questions in the past few weeks, then you too have been to an excessive number of family gatherings during this long holiday break. I couldn’t count the number of times I got texts from friends about the agonizing familial rendezvous they were enduring with aunts, uncles and, worst of all, grandparents.
Many of us view our grandparents from a respectful distance. We love them, but seeing as they come from an entirely different culture and era, they don’t really relate to us. And we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t really relate to them.
But during break, I decided to see if that was truly the case. Prompted by a Christmas gift exchanged over the holidays – a simple grey leather-bound journal to write down daily reflections – I thought I’d try to get a better idea of how my grandparents lived when they were my age.
For the first time in my life, I decided to interview them. I wanted to learn their stories.
It was easy enough, and – no surprise here – they were more than eager to talk. Here’s my takeaway: Music, fashion and colloquial expressions might change over time, but people don’t. In fact, our generations are more similar than we think.
I found myself enthralled by my grandfather’s stories of seedy nightclubs during World War II, and how he nearly dated Hollywood starlet Ava Gardner. I found out my grandmother owned one of only two cars in her hometown (but she humbly acknowledged that she still managed to get in a car crash).
The more they talked, the more they sounded like me. Though not identical, the stories they told reminded me of my own exploits.
Nowadays, Twitter and Instagram make it not only easy but essential to show off and keep track of everything about our lives, down to the most mundane details. Our lives are practically documented from minute to minute.
But our grandparents never had such a method beyond time-consuming journals or scrapbooks to keep track of those precious, exciting or scandalous memories that colored their lives for all those years but are now fading as they get older.
And after speaking with them, I realized how much we’re all missing if we don’t make it a point to hear what they have to say and write it down.
Give your own elderly relatives that same opportunity. Ask them about their childhood, their early relationships. At the very least, give them a journal to write down thoughts when they remember them.
And maybe at the visit to grandma’s, take the time to ask about her life story, instead of talking about your busy class schedule and your plans for after graduation again.
They’ve heard it all before, but what you hear from them might enthrall you.
The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.