My grandparents, Joan and Ernie DeGraw (married on March 4th, 1956), have been the two most inspirational people in my life next to my mom and dad. From the minute I was born, I had their full attention, love, and support. For me, being an only child certainly had its perks when I was around Gram and Pa. I can recall my fondest memories started with every Wednesday and Saturday I spent with them growing up.
Wednesdays were days I spent with my Gram. She would pick me up from school, we would head to Mcdonalds, and then if it was nice out, we would head to the park spending countless hours playing on the playground or riding my bike. There was never a time my gram got sick of pushing me on the swing, following me around on my bike or hurrying me up to go home. She wouldn’t call it quits until I was ready to call it a day.
Saturday mornings were for my Pa and I. When I was younger he generally came up to our house to visit and have coffee as part of his weekend ritual. It wasn’t until I learned to use the phone that some Saturday’s he would show up unexpectedly and my parents would wonder why he was there. It turns out, I would call him without my parents knowing and ask him to come pick me up and take me down to their house for the day. Saturday mornings led to Saturday evenings where I wound up staying over their house. During the weekends, I spent at my grandparents, I would go hand in hand with my Pa to the hardware store, visit my Gram at the grocery store, help him clean their pool, and listen to Yankee games on the radio.
Growing up my grandparents were not retired, and still worked very hard. Today, this shows me even more that they cherished their time with our family even more.
My grandmother worked part-time at Grand Union (now Stop and Shop) as a cashier and my grandfather worked as a boiler operator working with various chemicals and mixtures like vanilla extract, mustard, and molasses. He had a very strong work ethic and saved every penny he could for his family. There was one time that he had to work in Maryland so he could reach his retirement. He would work Monday-Friday and come home Friday-Sunday for six months to be with my grandmother and his family.
When it was time for me to go to college, my grandparents were so excited. I was the first one on this side of the family to go away to college. They wanted to do whatever it took for me to succeed. Weeks before I left, my grandfather took me out to purchase a new computer to take to college. When it was time to move in, he was right there with me carrying boxes into the first floor of Hamilton at FDU.
One of the best parts of college: one Wednesday a month was set aside for my grandparents. They would come down with a case of water and food and when I started dating Courtney sophomore year, they would take us out to lunch at the diner in town.
My grandparents are the two most selfless people I know and have helped me in so many ways get to where I am today. Unfortunately, in January 2006 going into my last semester at college, my grandfather passed away. This was by far the most upsetting time for me, but believe it or not, his passing fueled me to leave even a greater legacy at FDU. The sacrifices I made, especially the long days and Friday afternoons planning our Habitat for Humanity trip, my Pa was in the back of mind. Thinking about his work ethic, his selflessness, and jovial personality, got me through the last semester in college.
Today, my Gram being the strong woman she is, has still been there for me. I have never seen her more proud than when I completed my masters degree, then when I got married, and now turning my passion into a reality. At 78 years old, she still works a few days a week at Stop and Shop, she cuts her own grass and shovels her own driveway. She also walks twice a day - Beyonce would definitely call her flawless...if she knew her. By the way, now that my cousin Leah is in college, she goes down to TCNJ with my Aunt and Uncle to keep the tradition alive and take her out to lunch.
The visits that my grandparents and I had growing up instilled in me the value of making time for the important people around you, especially face to face visits. As we get older our lives begin to move faster and faster and technology sometimes hides us behind a device. As I carve out my niche, it is a priority and value of mine to spend time face to face with my closest family and friends.
How they inspired me:
I look at the relationship my grandparents had and I strive for that everyday with Courtney and I. They worked hard while never complaining, enjoyed the every moment with their friends and family, and remained humble as they helped the people around them.
What they taught me:
My grandparents taught me a lot, specifically, to save your money but live in the present and not become too frugal. See, once a year (sometimes twice a year) they would take a cruise with their friends, visit Wildwood every September, and take our family on day trips to various parts of New Jersey. They showed me how to live life to the fullest.
Dedicate time at least once a month to visit with the people that mean the most to you.