love, imperfect love, marriage,grandparentsI’m in 12th grade English and the teacher comes up with another ho-hum assignment.

“Write about your grandparents,” she demands.

Not so easy. My grandmother died when I was six, and my grandfather went from VA Hospital to nursing home in short order, dying five quick years later. What do I write about?  Funny thing is, the one thing I know for sure is that my grandparents loved each other.

How do I know that so certainly, considering how little I knew them?

Physically, they were a mismatch. Boo-Pa was six foot two, as straight and solid as a tree, with a large, angular face and thick straight dark blonde hair that was snow white by the time I was 5.

Nanny was petite, as delicate as a tiny bird, with small wise light blue eyes that crinkled when she smiled, a small, heart-shaped mouth that was always curved upward, and tiny feet and hands.

He was gruff and quiet, with a large presence.

She was dainty and sweet with a kindness that enveloped all who came near.

My other grandmother, Marmu, proclaimed to me years later that Nanny had been a true saint.

“Not saintly, not just a nice person or any of that,” Marmu explained earnestly.  “But an honest-to-God saint.”

How does a saint live with a sinner. How does a sinner live with a saint?

I saw their marriage in stark relief when I was five years old, early Christmas morning.

They were staying with us and sleeping in my brother’s bedroom. Despite my mother’s protestations, I tiptoed in their room to wake them up.  I wanted to play. BooPa was snoring.  They were curled up in each other’s arms. I giggled, then jumped on their bed.

They woke with a start, Nanny with a smile on her tiny face, BooPa with a snarl as he jumped out of bed.

He was naked!  I’d never seen a naked man, and I was absolutely fascinated.

“Phil,” my grandmother admonished.  Just that one word, spoken softly but with an edge to it, got him moving faster than I thought a big man should.  He jumped into his boxer shorts and turned to look at her abashedly.

“I didn’t know she’d wake us up!” he said, ignoring me, wanting only approval from his wife.

She gave him a kiss and told him to get dressed, then allowed me to snuggle in the bed with her.imperfect love, marriage, grandparents

Lucky BooPa, I thought briefly.  But how does Nanny live with such a creature?

Now, looking back, I see it as an age-old question between men and women.

The beauty.

  •                              The beast.

The sweet.

  •                              The sour.

The soft.

  •                             The hard.

And it all churns, somehow, into love.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to write for my English class. After all, I never really got to know my grandparents.


“We don’t love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities.” – Jacques Maritain



  1. Wonderful as always, Pam! My Bradley grandparents always seemed prim and proper and I knew they loved me (the twinkle in PopPop’s eye told me that and when they passed away and we were cleaning out their huge home, they had kept every card, note, letter I had ever written them) but, I knew they were in love when I heard the story how at their wedding PopPop took every pin out of Grandma’s hair for the joy of seeing it tumble down to her ankles and when he added a powder room off the kitchen for her with a sign on the door proclaiming it “Bonnie’s John” – their names…They were two very different people – like your grandparents – his idea of a perfect vacation was fly fishing and hers going to NYC to see plays, but they were totally devoted to each other….


  2. Beautiful! What a shame you didn’t get more time with them, to enjoy their presence and to observe their profound relationship more. Your Grandmother seems to have been a radiant example of soft power…I wish I had a teacher who could help me with that.


  3. Your grandmother sounds so sweet. I can totally picture poor BooPa –it doesn’t surprise me at all that his first inclination was to seek his wife’s approval. It’s like an ingrained male trait. 🙂


  4. Aw what a wonderful moment. It perfectly captures who they were. Thanks for sharing such a funny and tender moment. 🙂 I think you knew more of your grandparents in that short moment than some figure out in a lifetime of knowing them.


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