New Experiences For Grandparents

A collection of pandemic related stories from alumni about grandparents.

“Zoom Grandma” by Phyllis Swartz – Alumni (’71,’74) London, Ohio

Like many grandparents, I’ve felt a call to step up during this pandemic year. And so I’ve been homeschooling three of my out-of-state, middle-school grandsons—teaching writing and literature twice a week on Zoom. 

Until now, I’ve been a holiday, cousin-week, vacation-at-the-lake kind of grandma.

“I’m glad you don’t live right beside us,” a six-year-old grandson told me once.

On a couch under a blanket and in front of a fire, we had just shared popcorn, read a book, and played a game of Trouble. And he had seemed to be almost purring. So I was bewildered.

“Why, Jesse?” I asked.

“Because it wouldn’t be special like this,” he said. “It would just be everydayish.”

“I’m glad you like this,” I said, but I felt a pang. 

I had lived by my grandma. And there was something about being able to sit on a stool and talk with her as she fed towels through a wringer washer or set eggs on the grading machine or beat icing in the bowl pushed into the hollow of her lap. She didn’t stop her life for me. But in small frequent bits, she came into my life and invited me into hers. 

During this pandemic our scattered family hasn’t gathered as we usually do. But with my grandchildren, I’ve become a little more everydayish. One grandchild sends me an email: Grandma, can we work together on Zoom?

And so we get on Zoom. He does a page of math while I edit a chapter of a book I’m writing. Every once in a while, we look at each other and smile. Or we set a timer for ten minutes and report on our progress when it rings.

On Zoom, I’ve listened to violin practice and read a chapter book and practiced mental math and cheered for skateboard and scooter tricks. And I’ve watched a grandchild make crepes. 

The other day, my ninety-two-year old mother called me right during a Zoom literature class.

“Hey, Mom,” I said. “Try to get on Zoom and join our class.”

And she managed! So there we were—my grandchildren and their great-grandma and me together in a work-a-day way. 

Everydayish, like sitting by the wringer washer—sharing small bits of our lives.

“Spotting Grandma in the Grocery” by Twila Weber – Alumni (’76-’78,’83,’85) Irwin, Ohio

March 12, 2020 was my day off. I regretted that I hadn’t arranged to take care of my 1 ½-year-old grandson. I hadn’t seen him for a while and missed his adorable little self. I considered checking with his parents, but then got a call requesting that I attend a late afternoon work meeting. I told God of my desire to be with Ollie, then left it in his hands. After the meeting I did some grocery shopping. Crowds were growing quickly as news of the coronavirus spread. I stopped at a few stores, disappointed that I couldn’t find the rye flour I was searching for. I decided to try one more store, one I rarely visit. A mass of people swarmed the store. There were no more carts. I almost turned around.  Then above the din I heard, “There’s Grandma!” At first I thought how nice it was for someone to meet a grandchild at the store, and wished it was me. But, wait, it was for me! There were my daughter-in-law and grandson, grinning at me through the crowd. Of course I had to take that sweet little one home with me. And what a beautiful time it was – filled with smiles, hugs, and chuckles. Little did I know that would be the last time in months that I could keep him. I like to think God smiled and blessed this Grandma that day. It felt like a hug from him – and is one of my favorite COVID memories.

Ida Maust – Photo By Garrett County Republican

“Sock Monkey Troop Just Keeps Growing!” by Ida Maust – Alumni (‘70s) Accident, Md.

I started making sock monkeys when I was teaching the nursery-aged Sunday School class at my church 30 years ago. I’d make them for each of my students on their birthdays. I don’t know how many I’ve made over the years, somewhere between 400 and 500. I’ve given one to each of my children and grandchildren. Now I’m working on the great grandchildren. 

Shortly before the pandemic hit, an infection in my knee made walking too risky. I’ve adjusted to a lot of changes over the years so I knew I could adjust to this too. But I had to find something to do for somebody! My granddaughter helped me take a picture of a sock monkey and post it on Facebook as an encouragement to others who might be house or wheelchair bound. Then I started getting lots of requests from people who wanted monkeys. I used to be able to make a monkey in two hours, but these days it takes me four. I’m so thankful I still have good use of my hands and eyesight. The ongoing demand for monkeys is keeping me busy during this down time. If nobody wants monkeys, I’ll have to think of something else to do! (Story and photo supplied by Brenda Ruggiero, a staff writer for the Garrett County Republican.) 

“I’m Glad Mom Died When She Did” by Emily A. Byler – Alumni (’72,’75) Broadway, Virginia

My dear mother Ruth Stauffer Alger, 96, passed away February 4, 2020.  At that time we had no inkling of the coming pandemic. Our family of 100 descendants gathered from eight states for an evening of sharing hugs, smiles, and memories.  The following day we held a viewing and freely shook hands with a long line of folks who came to grieve with us.  My three sisters and I sang “Over the Sunset Mountain” and stood close together at the mike to share memories of our mother. The minister spoke clearly without a mask.  At the graveside, we watched as the younger generation grabbed shovels and covered the grave–no social distancing required. At the time we didn’t know how blessed we were.

Photo by Carrie Miller Beitzel

“Multi-Generational Pandemic Hospitality” by Phyllis Swartz – Alumni (’71,’74) London, Ohio

When the country shut down for the pandemic, my parents, David and Erma Miller, elderly and medically fragile, took it in stride. “Don’t worry,” my mom told me. “I know how to do this. When I was a child, the health department posted a quarantine sign on our front door.”

And so I watched them adapt. They invited children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to their backyard for meals—only now everyone brought their own food and stayed socially distant. I dropped groceries in their garage, and my dad developed a system for sanitizing the packaging. And when my parents sat on the porch, neighbors talked to them from the sidewalk. This was all working, and with warm weather ahead, we thought we had figured it out.

Except that the pandemic didn’t end with summer. The bite in the air as I shivered with them on the porch one fall afternoon was a warning. And none of us could imagine how to do the winter. The two of them alone in the house seemed wrong. But should the house be open to a 68-member family?

Our brother-in-law Joe Showalter solved the problem. Between the kitchen and the wide hallway leading to the back entrance, he installed a glass door and a speaker system. And my parents, who have shown hospitality for decades, found their pandemic way to do it. 

If you walked into their hallway, you’d find a microwave and paper plates and cups to get water from a spigot. You’d see a dozen folding chairs and hand sanitizer and a heater. And if you brought take-out for a meal, you’d push a small table up to the glass. On the other side of the glass, you’d see my parents sitting at an identical table, pushed up to the glass and filled with their food. And you’d all pull up chairs and eat and talk—just like old times, almost.

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