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Grandparents and faith

Here's a vintage pic of my grandma and my mom and my two youngest brothers on the "train" that chugs through our local zoo.
Here’s a vintage pic of my grandma and my mom and my two youngest brothers on the “train” that chugs through our local zoo.

Last Sunday was Grandparent’s day, which, let’s be real, is probably a Hallmark holiday. But, I’m Catholic and it doesn’t take much of an excuse to get me to celebrate, so that’s just that.

My father had a set of parents. His mother died when I was young, so young that memories of the news of her death and the funeral come in snapshots or short seconds-long videos-of-memory, nothing more. Shortly after that, my father’s father moved states and states away, so I have few memories of him, either. Actually, I really only have one. For the sake of discussion: he was over at my house for probably a family gathering or birthday party. I (around five years old, mind you) felt obliged to entertain/ host well, so I sat on his lap and we talked about foods you eat for breakfast as well as those you don’t eat for breakfast. (Cough.) After awhile I was like, “my work here is complete,” so I hopped down. (Upon reflection, have my discussion skills progressed since then??)

States away, he met and married a woman who writes me beautiful, caring cards on my birthday and sends postage stamps for the holidays. I love her, but from afar.

My mother also had a set of parents. Her father died when she was young, though, so I’ve only met him through photos and the ample happy stories of his existence. My mother’s mother, my grandmother, then, is the only grandparent who actively participated in my life as I grew up. She was the one who came to every piano recital, every play (even if stupid! even if only hosted in a living room!), every state fair. She was the one who taught me to dance. She’s the one with whom I share the most experiences, the most memories.

First Communion! With Dave and the priest. Father...Bill? I forget. I have not forgotten those shoes, though. They served me well.
First Communion! With Dave and the priest. Father…Bill? I forget. I have not forgotten those shoes, though. They served me well.
When I was being a camp counselor a few weeks back, I was riding on a bus with a bunch of packed-in girls. Somehow we started talking about our First Communions, the memories they had, what they wore, what people said to them. I was surprised at how much they could remember until I recalled that, you know, I could remember quite a bit, too. I remember my dress–a hand-me-down from a cousin twice removed–and how I wore gloves and my brand new Mary Janes with the silver clasp in the center of the strap instead of on the side of the shoe. I received several gifts, but the ones I remember most vividly were two. First, a rosary of fake pearls on a silver chain which I used for a few years in high school until it broke apart one day. Secondly, a Bible from my grandmother. That Bible was not a kid-Bible with pictures and simplified words, but a legit one, the kind grown-ups use with all the books (all of them! Holla at Judith and Tobit!) and the tiny notes in the margin and the stories sometimes withheld from kid-versions (“and he begot him who begot this other one who begot…”).

A few days after I received the Bible, my father gave me a set of highlighters (which, in all honestly, I kind of abused and used to over-highlight) and he bought a set of sticky-tabs from a local Bible bookstore and he placed the tabs with all of the books of the Bible on the correct page, so I could turn to each book with more ease.

The point of many religious items is, of course, not the item itself. So, for example: church buildings are fine and good and lovely, but the people inside are what matter. Lighting candles in a church is dandy and fun, but the prayers are the important part. Similarly, that particular Bible wasn’t as important as the fact that God speaks through scripture, I know, I know.

But, there’s still something about the physical, isn’t there? There’s still something about the smell of candles and incense and exhaustion at midnight mass that can silence you. There’s something about dipping fingers into the baptismal font to remind your heart: God chose you, kiddo.

There’s something nice about the Bible, too. The navy zip-pouch where I store the Bible is slowly dying the Bible’s white cover. The pages will open directly to some of my favorite parts–John 10 or Nehemiah–almost like it knows me.

That one Bible is heavy, though. Not super heavy, but heavy enough that I bought a different one a few years back for traveling. Lighter and more compact (smaller font, etc), the newer Bible became the one I used more and more frequently until I moved the one from my grandmother into the basement for more space. Until, that is, I misplaced the travel Bible a few days before camp. Knowing I wanted a Bible while away, I walked to the basement and retrieved the one from my grandmother from the lineup of other books.

When the girls on the bus talked about their First Communions, I thought about mine, too, and the Bible from my grandmother, and then my grandmother herself, deceased for almost a decade now. I thanked them for reminding me that this was one of the few gifts I have from my grandmother–a gift of faith.

Then I came home.

To the destroyed basement. The Bible I took to camp would have been the first in line for the dumpster, for sure, as it would have been submerged in the sewer-water and ruined.

But, it wasn’t, it was safe with me, a gift from my grandmother for my spiritual journey.

My grandma plays pretend as the Pioneer Grandma with her grandkiddos.
My grandma plays pretend as the Pioneer Grandma with her grandkiddos.


That’s what I’ve been thinking about in this week of grandparents–how grandparents can pass on a faith.

Now, a certain blog reader, Andrew, was like, “Only your mom and I read your blog”

And I was like, “SOMETIMES CAITLIN READS IT, TOO,” so there.

I’ve got a question for ya. Today’s question for ANDREW and maybe CAITLIN and maybe OTHER PEOPLE WHO ANDREW DOESN’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT is this: how have your grandparents influenced your faith journey?

I’d honestly love love to learn about this. Because I’m sure it’s a beautiful story.

teh me

Some of our photos have been ruined in the flood...around the edges like you see here. Anyway! Here are my cousins and the twins and grandma and I.
Some of our photos have been ruined in the flood…around the edges like you see here. Anyway! Here are my cousins and the twins and grandma and I.

10 thoughts on “Grandparents and faith

  1. Are you kidding me? I read your blog everyday.

    – I still have my Communion Bible from Granma D as well and it was the one that I took to Pioneer Girls. It has my memory verses from that time in the case pocket. It is the bible that I still keep next to my bed and take to Bible studies. I also remember that Granma got run over by a car in Shrine’s parking lot. That is pretty hardcore. I’m not sure if it has much to do with her faith, though.

    – We would always visit my dad’s parents for Easter. For two Easters, about 12ish years ago, my grandpa took part in a Passion play where he would play an Apostle(Andrew?). That was really cool. Even my cousins who were not into their faith would go to see my grandpa in that play. My grandpa also spent like 30 years praying in front of Abortion clinics. At his funeral the priest said, “I had an image of Bill in heaven with all of the children that he prayed for gathering around him.”

    – Here is my Grandma Hughes’ story:
    Grandma had just yelled at grandpa for something.
    Me: Grandma, were you ever in love with grandpa?
    Grandma: I don’t think so.
    Me: Why did you marry him then?
    Grandma: I married him because he was Catholic.

    They stuck it out through 59 years and 6 naughty kids. That is a witness right there.

  2. I sadly don’t really have good 1st communion memories. I remember a little kid saying “Graham, Graham.” Graham was one of the CCD kidz, and I ended up being in boy scouts with him. One time we skipped out of boy scouts and went to Steak n Shake. The other memory is my Aunt Nancy leaving the party early because of feeling ill. Later that night cousin Adam was borned.

    Grandparenty stuff: All mine are deceased.
    Grandma S died before I was born.
    Grandpa S died while I was in college. His witness to the faith was not something overt and proselytizy, but he lived a joyful life, and he loved his family. He also served as an usher. My aunts could better tell the story.

    Grandma F died when I was a child. She was not Catholic. Neither was Grandpa F or so we thought. He had a Catholic funeral and burial. He had somehow clandestinely joined St. Sebastian. How we could tell was by the raffle tickets they mailed. There is probably a lesson there about not knowing what’s really going on inside someone with their faith journey.

  3. I just saw now I was mentioned so I better comment!
    All four kept a typical Irish Catholic home with a crucifix in every room, Irish blessings hanging on the wall, pictures of grandkids proudly displayed, etc.
    My Gramma H. actually made my first communion dress! It’s white eyelet and I super love it. I wore it to a few weddings, Easter, and other occasions with different colored ribbon sashes but I had a white sash for my communion. She machine embroidered the inside with my name and the date of my first communion. (She also made my mom’s communion dress but I wore that when I was five because I was a tall child and dresses in the 60s were shorter). Other first communion memory, Cullen yelling “I want the body of CHRISTTTTT” when we were at a first communicant May crowning a few weeks later.

    Gramma H has taught me a lot of things, East Coast manners, taking time to put on makeup in the morning is important for a lady, how to sew, how to find a bahgain, that Mary is IMPORTANT, and how to make the sign of the cross when you pass a church.
    She and Grampa H are always telling me how God made me “Smaht.” I usually go to Mass with them when I visit them.
    Other word of wisdom from Grandpa H about life: “Caity, it’s good to go to the gym and work out now. Because when you get old, you have to go to physical therapy all the time.” He’s also really good at being a tour guide, if you go someplace he will tell you all about it and the things you should see there. (Conor is a lot like him).

    Gramma and Grandpa Callaghan always made it a point to make it to as many Grandkid sacraments they could when they were alive. This was especially important to Gramma C, every time toward the end when she was sick she said “I have to live to go to ___’s first Communion.” And she did. She saw everyone receive Jesus the first time. That’s always stuck with me. She was also proud of my cooking abilities. “Caity you have to learn to make the Cinnamon Rolls.” (she majored in Home Ec in college).
    Plus the fact she and my Grandpa lived across the street from a church. Grandpa C walked across the street to daily mass for as long as he was able.
    Other things Grandpa C taught me, “Life’s too short to be mad at people, especially family,” gardens are cool (something he passed on to my hipster Dad), if you go to the zoo early in the morning the animals do more cool stuff, and if you eat too many berries in one sitting you will get sick. And if you didn’t finish your corn, he would eat it even if you licked all the butter and salt off of it.

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