My grandparents were the most amazing people ever.
Everyone at church called them grandma and grandpa.
They lived on an idyllic farm in the country, with a horse named Ginger, and a garden bigger than a city block.
They had it all.
A tire swing.
A quarter-mile long driveway.
Acres of land to play hide-and-seek.
A tractor-tire sandbox.
Even a huge pine tree in the front yard to decorate with Christmas lights for the holidays.
It was a kid’s paradise.
Every Sunday after church, we would gather at grandma’s house with my cousins to have lunch and play for hours.
My grandpa would save apples all week for us to feed to Ginger. I thought that was about the best thing ever.
Grandma’s house is where I learned to ride a bike.
And how to pick a good melon.
My dad tried about 1,000 times to teach me how to throw a good spiral. (That is where I learned that football is not my bag, baby.)
I would arm-wrestle my uncle, he would almost let me beat him, and then slam my hand down at the last minute for the win.
I picked strawberries with my grandpa, and then sprawled out in the grass and ate them. If you have never eaten warm strawberries right out of the garden, I highly recommend it. (Though your experience will be lacking, unless you have a rugged grandpa-type there smelling of motor oil and Old Spice.)
Yet in all of these memories, I do not remember once ever sitting in front of a TV with my family. We LIVED.
We fought over the tire swing, not the iPad.
We raced to the end of the driveway and back, not to the video game console.
We stared at the stars in the sky, not at our iPhones.
And it was the happiest time of my life.
I would give anything to be back there…eating grandma’s homemade black raspberry jelly, and feeding big, crunchy apples to that beautiful horse.
But life doesn’t work that way, does it?
Instead, I am here. Working 50 hours a week, and raising two children on my own…one of whom has Autism. I am constantly fighting for him…with insurance companies, the government, the public school system. It is stressful and exhausting.
But do you know why I have the strength and the stubbornness and the sheer will to fight for my son?
Because that is the way I grew up. It is what I witnessed as a child. It is the only way I know.
I can only hope that my own children will learn from my example and pass that legacy on to their own children.
My grandparents are both gone now.
Their house has long since been purchased and renovated into some half-million dollar property.
The tire swing is gone.
Ginger is buried in the field behind that house.
But the one thing that remains is the one thing that ever really mattered.
My grandparents taught me how to LIVE.
My grandpa taught me how to work hard. And be tough. And how to say I’m sorry. And to never, ever give up. He believed that one day my dad would actually be able to teach me how to throw a spiral, and that if I kept trying, one day I would actually beat my uncle at arm-wrestling.
My grandma taught me devotion. And kindness. And fierce compassion and generosity. But she was also feisty. I will never forget the time my cousin Brent was being illegally pinned during a wrestling match, and grandma marched down off the bleachers and kicked that referee in the butt.
It was amazing.
I still can’t throw a football to save my life. And I never did beat my uncle at arm-wrestling.
But I didn’t give up then. And I won’t give up now.
My grandparents taught me how to do everything I am doing for my son, just by being who they were.
The memories I have of their home and my childhood will last forever.
As will my tenacity to fight for what I love.