John Larson

If National Senior Citizen Day last month wasn’t enough for all oldsters, thanks to a proclamation of President Carter this coming Sunday is the day for all the grandmas and grandpas of the world, Grandparents Day.

When growing up I think everyone gets used to calling their grandparents by nicknames. I used to call mine Granny and Papa and thought it odd when my friends at school called their’s Mam Maw and Pap Paw or something equally peculiar to my ears. As a granddaddy-o myself I wanted my grandchildren to refer to me as Granddude, but that went nowhere.

One thing’s for sure, being at this grandparenting game for just a few years, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sometimes when I get to feel like just an old chunk of coal, thinking about my two grandkids makes me feel kind of like a diamond.

I’ve got to say that my image of a grandparent has changed a lot since I was a kid. My grandmother was a white-haired old lady I remember as being cheery, but tough (think Granny Clampett), and my grandfather taught me how to whittle.

My other grandmother, I don’t remember much at all, only that she didn’t speak English too well, and the father of my father died from pneumonia when my dad was only 10 years old, and the family leaves it at that. But later I got wind of the story that his early demise had something to do with the bathtub gin he was making during Prohibition.

Unlike that rumored ne’er-do-well grandfather, some grandparents make their mark and are so well known they’ve gone down in history, like Grandma Moses. But for some reason, we’ve never heard of Grandpa Moses, unless we’re talking about Moses himself who, as far as I can tell had only one grandson, the ill-fated Jonathan.

But I digress. It’s the Baby Boomers who are now grandparents, and I’m trying to picture the current crop of grandchildren whose grandparents have tattoos, purple hair, and sing Bohemian Rhapsody along with the radio while driving down the road. Frankly, I can’t imagine having Mick Jagger or Snoop Dog as a grandfather.

As for role models, movie grandparents raise the bar for the rest of us, like the one in Eat Drink Man Woman, where the grandfather was a retired chef – one the greatest in Taiwan. He would send his granddaughter off to school every day with a five-star gourmet lunch which was the envy of her classmates, who were eating riceballs and cold fish and such.

The next best movie grandparent is Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, who didn’t get out of bed for 20 years until his grandson asked him to go with him on a tour of the chocolate factory. Honorable mentions are Grandpa Munster and Royal Tennenbaum.

We have songs about mothers and fathers but I can’t think of any about grandparents unless it’s the one about a reindeer running over somebody’s grandmother. Whether that’s because pop songs are written by young songwriters or not, the only ones I can think of have to do grandpa or grandma dying or something else maudlin.

I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but Mark Twain once postulated that it would be possible to be one’s own grandparent. With that in mind, somebody turned the whole jumbled equation into a song in the late 1940s – covered in the 1980s by Ray Stevens – called I’m My Own Grandpaw. The following is labyrinthine and ought to come with a flow chart. These aren’t literal lyrics but here’s the gist:

When I was twenty-three I married a widow who had a grown-up daughter. My father fell in love with the daughter and married her which made my dad my son-in-law, so now my daughter was my mother because she was my father’s wife.

When I became the father of a baby boy, my son then became a brother-in-law to my dad and likewise became my uncle. So if he was my uncle, that also made him the brother of the widow’s grown-up daughter, who was my step-mother. My father’s wife then had a son and he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter’s son. My wife is now my mother’s mother and although she is my wife, she’s my grandmother too. So, if my wife is my grandmother, then I’m her grandchild, so as husband of my grandmother I am my own grandpaw.

This is the point where my brain gets wonky and the neurons start jumping synapses, kind of like it did when I was trying not to flunk algebra and if I take this much further I may have to resort to a PowerPoint presentation. Heaven forbid.

But why do we have a grandfather clock but no grandmother clock?