There aren’t many things I agree with wholistically, but “Ignorance is wasted on the youth,” is one of them. There are so many things I thought I understood and knew when I was younger, but now understand just how foolish I was. Despite all of the literal pains and aches of getting older, the best thing about it is the perspective and wisdom you acquire. 2023 has been a really difficult year for me up to this point for a variety of reasons. I’ve been struggling in a lot of areas of my life, and those physical aches and pains have become even more pronounced.
However, before the calendar turned in January, I found myself reaching a personal pinnacle of sentimentality in the end of 2022. I was lamenting the short amount of time I had with my kids while they were still living under my roof, one is already off and in college. I was wondering how many more holiday meals and gatherings I would get to have with my entire extended family in tact. I am grateful for the times we can all get together, but as my parents and aunts and uncles get older, I never take anything for granted. More importantly, as my own kids get older I realize that we are only a few years away from having their holiday time divided up by the new families that they are joining or becoming a part of.
With my own perspective and mortality increasing each day, I began thinking back to the days of my youth with my grandparents. I was thinking about how special they made my childhood and all of our holidays. I made sure to go and spend time at each of their gravestones alone to have my time with them and say thank you. When I venture on those journies alone, I always make sure to stop and say hello to a woman I never met, Amelia.
My biological grandmother died tragically in 1959 when my dad was just seven years old. She was taken my dad and his younger sister at ages when they needed her the most. Although I knew this when I was much younger, my ignorance never really had me spend much time reflecting on it. Now, as my own kids are almost on their way out the door of my house, I couldn’t imagine having one of my parents gone at such a young age. As a parent, I could never imagine not being around to raise my kids, even though it almost happened once.
As an middle-aged man, I have been taking inventory of who I am as a person and what I want to do with my life in its next stage that is approaching. That reflection has led me to think about the impact and influence my parents have had on me as a person. I can clearly see the traits of each of my parents in me in how I handle things and interact with people. I know and feel the influences of my grandparents as well. I see where their personalities were passed down to me in certain areas, and I draw from the life lessons and experiences they shared with me before they passed. Yet, I never got to know one of them. I never got to meet Amelia, and she never got to meet me. I don’t know which parts of me are her, but I know I wouldn’t be here without her.
Standing at that gravestone and seeing a life ended at 29 brings so many emotions to a man that is in his mid-forties. At one point in time, it seemed that 29 was the age where you had everything figured out. Now, looking back it is the age where you started to learn you didn’t have everything figured out. There was so much to live for, and so many people to live for. However, I am seeking to figure out what parts of me show that represent her in this world.
As I was struggling a bit with this wanting to reconnect with my grandparents around the holidays, I feel like I got a little bit of closure and comfort by spending some time with them at the cemetary by myself in December. I came back home from my parents with a good perspective and handle on things. I was set to come back home and spend the rest of my break taking on projects over the rest of my break. At that point, I had no idea that my journey to seek guidance and comfort from my grandparents and a woman I never met would come full circle.
After returning home from my parents, my wife and I set out to clean out a storage closet that we had just thrown a number of items for years. I knew we had blankets, linens, and odds and ends in this closet, along with other items that we hadn’t used in over ten years that needed to be sorted through so we could donate or simply throw away. We had almost completed everything when Amy handed me a bag and said look at this:
Eighteen years earlier, my aunt had given this hand-embroidered pillow case from her mother to us with this touching note. Twenty seven year old me undoubtedly looked at this and thought what a nice gesture this was, but we placed the pillow case and not back into the storage bag it was given to us and truly forgot about us. The pillow case and note even survived a move from one house to another, from one storage area to another, fortunately without being damaged or thrown away where it would sit for another decade, waiting for the exact right moment to be discovered and opened.
Had I found this pillow case and note two years ago, I would have probably looked at it with a little more sentimentality than I did in 2005, but it would have undoubtedly gone right back into the closet. However, it was as if the spirits aligned for this to be placed in my hand only a couple of days after visiting her grave. I immediately took the pillow case out and put it around my favorite pillow. It was my chance to connect with someone I never knew, but undoubtedly has played a huge role in shaping who I am.
Now, every night when I go to sleep I lay my head where her hands once were. I sleep on my stomach, so I literally wrap my hands around her work every night. I wonder who these pillow cases were made for. I wonder if she envisioned giving them to grandchildren one day. I think about how she made these when she was probably 27 or 28 years old, and when I was originally given them around this age I didn’t think anything of it. I think about how she had no idea that she wouldn’t be around to see her kids grow up and turn into the awesome father and aunt that they have been to me. Every night when I lay my head down, I think about how lucky I am to have an aunt that was so thoughtful enough to share these with me.
When I often think and wonder what traits come out in me that were a part of my grandma, I think of the sentimentality that are a huge part of my aunt and my dad. I think that is what I have inherited, learned, and continue to try and pass down to my kids. Don’t overlook the simple things in life because those might be the greatest treasures you hold one day. Don’t take time with family and loved ones for granted, because you truly never know how much time you have in this world. Even though I never got to meet her, I feel like the pillow case I place my head on every night has brought me so much closer to her. I imagine her doing her embroidering with this case in her lap, and now my head gets to lay there each night. She never got to hold me or have my head in her lap, but over 60 years later it is where I place my head every night. Youth is wasted on the ignorant, but I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to gain this priceless wisdom and perspective while getting closer to a woman I’ve never met but is shaping me in profound ways today.
2023 has been far from the best year of my life, but there are plenty of reminders of how beautiful life can be. I see the physical resemblence of my grandma in my aunt and dad, but it is the emotional and sentimental traits I hope to keep passing down to my family over the years like they have to me. When we’re young time seems so endless, but as we get older we realize how quickly it goes by and how closely connected we are with each generation before us. While she didn’t live very long, my grandma has helped me stay connected with those generations by the things she made and passed down to her kids, both physically and spiritually. I hope I get to meet her one day.