I was born during prime planting season for watermelons in East Texas. One of my favorite things about my birthday was hearing the affectionately called “Watermelon Story.” It goes that in the middle of planting seeds, a call was received notifying of my impending arrival and how everything had to be dropped so a race to the hospital could ensue. There was no denying who I belonged to when peeking through the nursery window because my nose was the classic family trademark. Hearing this story was my favorite birthday tradition. One of the reasons why the tale is so special to me is because it recounted so much excitement, joy, and love. It representated the most influential demonstrations of sacrifice that shaped my life—the sacrifice made by my grandparents to raise me as their own.
Jimmie G., aka Paw Paw and Linda Rae, aka Granny, welcomed me full time into their care as a toddler. I came equipped with enough baggage that could rival many middle-aged adults. I can never fully put into words the depth of my gratitude for their unselfish love and dedication to my upbringing. I am confident my story would look a lot different without their intervention.
Truth be told, when grandparents raise you, you gain a unique perspective. Here are just a few of the many life lessons that I learned from growing up with my Granny and Paw Paw:
- There’s nothing a good pancake couldn’t fix.
My Granny makes the best pancakes in the world. If a conversation needed to be had, she would whip up some batter and make us pancakes. While she flipped, I would eat, and we would chat. Whether it was a bad grade, a broken heart, or just catching up, having that pancake and time with her would make the troubles melt away.
- Elvis is, in fact, King.
True story, I didn’t know who Michael Jackson was until college, but I had those Elvis lyrics down. Most college kids dreamed of European landscapes while I couldn’t wait to walk through the gates of Graceland. I spent many afternoons watching films such as Blue Hawaii, and every year we would commemorate his passing with an understood moment of silence. Elvis was King. To my Paw Paw, Elvis represented more than just rock-n-roll. He embodied what it meant to have a dream come true. If it could happen for a poor kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, it could happen for me.
- Never pay for Tupperware.
Why would one ever pay for storage containers when so many products can be reused as storage containers. Cool Whip, Country Crock, and jelly cars can all be washed and recycled into durable Tupperware containers. It was always a fun game when opening the fridge to see if you were getting the margarine or last night’s leftover spaghetti sauce. But deeper than that, it taught me to be resourceful and to think outside the box.
- Bless your heart.
It never really crossed my mind that a woman could be anything but strong. In addition to raising me, my Granny worked full-time, served as Room Mom, had a crafting side hustle, was social as all get out, kept the house clean, and would still find time to make homemade manicotti. If someone told her she couldn’t do something, she would go out of their way to prove them wrong. She was, and still is, the reason I have always felt I could accomplish or overcome anything that came my way. If anyone would tell me differently, I followed my Granny’s lead and look at them and say, “Bless your heart.”
- Dance like no one is watching.
We were at a wedding once when the infamous Chicken Dance began. Much to my shock and amazement, my Paw Paw started flapping his arms and got down! I couldn’t decide whether to be mortified or laugh. It was pure greatness. Little did he know he would be teaching me one of life’s greatest lessons, dance like no one is watching. Be yourself and do not care what others might think of you, and never let your age put a limit on your ability to get down.
My Granny is still cheering me on from six hours away in my hometown, but it’s been 14 years without hearing the watermelon story from my Paw Paw. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of him. While growing up, I often questioned why I had to be raised by my grandparents, but now I truly know I am who I am today because of the wonderful individuals who made the unselfish decision to raise me as their own. I needed nothing less than their love and devotion. Today in honor of Grandparents Day, I will make myself a pancake, blast Jailhouse Rock, and appreciate the love and wisdom poured into me by two genuinely remarkable people.
…And to all of you grandparents raising grandchildren, keep doing you. You are exactly what they need. Happy Grandparents Day!