(submitted by Mir of WouldaCouldaShoulda.com)
A friend of mine recently lost her step-grandfather, and after reading her lovely reminiscences about him, I started thinking about mine. (My step-grandfather, that is. Not my memories of hers. That would be weird.)
I don't remember my father's father; he died of a heart attack when I was three, and I have some vague memories of phone calls and murmuring adults, but even those may not be real memories, but placeholders my brain erected where I have no genuine memories to fill the gaps. My grandmother later remarried a gruff and eccentric man by the name of Ira. Ira had never been married before, and while I don't know how old he was when my grandmother came along, I know they were both senior citizens and Ira had traveled beyond "confirmed bachelor" into "staunch curmudgeon" territory. He didn't have a lot of experience with kids. What he had experience with was vaudeville (which, I suppose, is not all that different from dealing with small children).
Nevertheless, as the only female grandchild to a grandmother who'd raised only boys, I was presented to this man as the little princess my grandmother (and I, frankly) believed me to be.
I don't know if it was just that he really loved my grandmother or if he truly found me amusing—a little of both, I suspect—but Ira and I quickly fell into a goofy lockstep. Ira knew singing and dancing and cracking jokes; I was always happy to perform for attention. Ira taught me snippets of songs and punchlines to jokes I often didn't understand, and for some inexplicable reason he would often look at me and declare, "Moo Goo!" to which I was to respond, "Gai Pan!"
What I remember most about Ira, though, was his endless willingness to play school with me. I believed I was going to be a wonderful teacher when I grew up, see, and I needed to practice. When we went to visit my grandparents I always brought workbooks and other supplies both to keep me occupied solo and to provide fodder for our school sessions. I'd get Ira to sit down at my grandmother's table and I'd give him, say, a page full of math problems.
"Now Ira, you need to do all of these problems, and then I'll grade your work."
"I don't know how to do these," he'd say, peering over his glasses at a page of addition problems.
"Just add them together," I'd say. "You can do it!"
"Well, okay," he'd say. "But I'm not sure I have enough fingers and toes for this."
I'd giggle and give him a few minutes to do his math. Then he'd give the paper to me, saying it had turned out to be pretty easy, actually, and of course the answer to every single problem was wrong. I'd sit down with him and try to "teach" him where he'd erred, and he would have some ridiculous explanation of why each wrong answer was actually totally correct. (Like, twelve plus seven was zero because in his family there had been seven kids and twelve donuts would've disappeared in an instant. Stuff like that.)
Other times, I'd give him spelling tests. He'd insert random letters in his words, or insist that cat really was spelled with a K in some countries. By the time I gave up trying to "teach" him, it was because my grandmother and I were usually too busy laughing at him to continue.
I led a pretty charmed childhood in terms of losing loved ones; by the time Ira passed away, I was 16 and his was the first loss I feel like I really experienced. I looked back on all those times he played school with me and remember laughing a lot. As an adult, I remember something else, too, though. Even though he was being silly, and even though he was bowing to whatever game I insisted he play with me, Ira treated me like I was an adult. Sure, we were playing roles. I was the teacher, he was the student. It was temporary. But he let me be in charge. He called me Missus and did what I said and listened to me.
A lot of people loved me, growing up. I'm not saying Ira was the only one. But whether it was purposeful or not, his willingness to step into that role reversal with me was incredibly empowering. I felt like I mattered in a way I didn't feel, normally. He may never have been a father, and he may have parked his clunker of a car sideways across three parking spots to "protect" it, but he was a heck of a grandfather to me.
Is there someone from your childhood who made you feel just a little more important? Do you think it was intentional or a happy accident?
Read more from the amazing Mir at the equally amazing Woulda Coulda Shoulda here: WouldaShoulda.com