Grandma Iris (GI)

Me and my grandmother, San Antonio, Texas

Me and my grandmother, San Antonio, Texas

[Exercise: Tell me how you first learned to read.]

A few years ago she started signing her emails with the initials “GI” for “Grandma Iris.” As I reflect upon our relationship, a surge of emotions rises up inside me and brings me to tears, the joyful kind. There’s so much I love about GI, the woman who taught me the value of reading books, and writing. My perception is that she spent a lot of time with me growing up; in truth, I don’t remember the quantity, so much as the quality of our interactions. Without the burden of my parents’ presence, she and I developed a special bond that one can sometimes have with a grandparent who sees the “real” you. She once let me decide what to eat for lunch during my weeklong visit to San Antonio, where she lived. Every day we ate “Happy Meals” at McDonalds. GI knew when to break the rules to help grow the spirit of a child.

For her 80th birthday, a few years ago, our family travelled from all over the U.S. to San Antonio to celebrate her life. One of our gifts was a scrapbook with pictures, poems, and special memories we wanted to share with her. I asked my mother to tell me what she remembered about my childhood relationship with GI, and here’s what she said:

You were her first grandchild. She met you at one and a half months old, after we moved to San Antonio. She was crazy about you. You entered into this world without a handbook, and I didn’t know a thing about babies, so she provided guidance and helped me to take care of you. You were fortunate to have spent the first two years of your life close to Iris, but even when we moved to College Station, and then to Baton Rouge, she always visited us. She used to fly to Louisiana to pick you up and take you to San Antonio for your summer vacation. She’s responsible for your love of reading because she enrolled you in a reading program. I have so much respect and love for her. The Dounsons and the McDonalds were the only family I had in the U.S., and they taught me so many things. For that, I will always be grateful.

GI is an inspiration to me. She’s strong and courageous, but also tenderhearted and loving. She has a great sense of humor and can laugh at the tragicomic events in life. She’s brave, spontaneous, and doesn’t look back at life with regret; rather, she is fully present and engaged with life now. I love that she had the courage to marry the man she loved, a Greek man, whose family felt that their son’s marriage to a woman of Scottish, not Greek descent, was disgraceful. And that she was strong enough to leave that same man when his love had become abusive. She also had the wisdom to fall in love again, to a man, slightly older than herself, whose gentleness and care mirrored her own. GI writes beautiful poetry. She leads poetry workshops at the Center where she lives. She takes Tai Chi. She plays Bunco. She’s learning to play the Ukulele. She’s the most alive, fun, and interesting 80+-year-old I know!