Not many people have been blessed with the opportunity to meet their great-grandparents. Of those who have, few have had wonderful relationships with these great-grandparents or have many vivid memories of them. I, however, have been blessed with the gift of having known three of my great-grandparents very well. I have known one great-grandfather and two great-grandmothers. I never really understood what a privilege it was to have these three people in my life until they were gone. However, I still have the memories of them, along with the valuable lessons they taught me.
I still can see the inside of the old house that was Pappy Ernie's and Grandma Jean's; I'd walk in through the kitchen, turn into the living room, and hear Pappy say to Grandma, "Oh, look, the kiddies are here!" My brother and I would run over to them, giving hugs and kisses, with the sound of "Wheel of Fortune" in the background. Pappy would say, "Sing us your piece," and we would start with "Up So High in the Apple Tree." And, when our song was finished, they applauded us until our faces beamed with pride. That is one of my most vivid memories of visiting my great-grandparents.
This is not the only memory I have of them. I also remember going out to the barn to feed the hunting dogs with Pappy and digging for potatoes in the big field across the road. One of my favorite things to do there was to pick pears from the trees in the front yard. Pappy and Grandma would help me because I was not big enough to reach the branches yet.
I never did get the chance to get big enough to reach those pears while Pappy was living. I did not understand, being a four-year-old, that his kidneys had failed. All I knew was that he was gone and that there would be no more picking pears or digging for potatoes. No more visits to the old house where I had spent so much time. I had lost one of my very best friends. You can never really explain that to a four-year-old.
I had five more years with Grandma Jean. They weren't spent in the old house, but they were treasured years nonetheless. Visiting her in the nursing home, I shared with her what was going on in my life. She always listened. But then the time came for her to go. I was nine years old and better understood what was happening. But it still hurt, and I miss her even today.
Of the three great-grandparents I've had, my Grandma Benn was the one with whom I was closest. I still see the inside of the trailer she lived in for years. It was small and nothing fancy, but I loved going there. When I was a young child, I enjoyed playing with the toys that were in the little red wooden toy box. There were wooden blocks, old metal cars and other toys that her own children had played with. I spent many hours of my childhood playing with those toys. When I was a few years older, I enjoyed just talking with my grandma. We always had great conversations.
I have so many fond memories of my grandma, but one of my fondest is that she saved everything. Nothing went to waste in her house. It used to make my family members and I laugh. When we would lend her books, she would give them back in cereal bags that she had rinsed out to use again. She also was grateful for anything and everything she received. I remember when people asked her what she would like for Christmas, she would ask for some toilet paper and other small necessities. She never asked for things she wanted. I cannot fit into this small space all of the wonderful memories I have of her.
It was on a March day that we got the call that she had died. Although her death was not a surprise, I have never cried that much in my life. At the viewing, I could not go over to the casket and look. I couldnt imagine that was my grandma in there. I was thirteen years old and had just lost my biggest role model. I wanted to remember her as she had been while living.
Today I wish that I still had all three of these wonderful people in my life. I may not have them physically anymore, but I have all the wonderful memories and the lessons they taught me: What it means to stay completely in love for more than 60 years, to be thankful for everything, to never take anything for granted, and to have unfailing faith, no matter what happens.
I will take these lessons with me everywhere I go and never forget what a blessing it is to have had a personal relationship with three of the best people I know.
Jillian Byler is an Indian Valley High School student reporter and columnist.