Food For Thought

For the Love of Grandmothers 

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

In one of John Denver’s songs he refers to the state of West Virginia as almost heaven. I think a grandchild would say the same thing about a visit to see grandma. It’s like going to heaven for a day.

Grandmothers surely are made in heaven and exhibit an angel-like quality that’s hard to explain. We grandfathers may think we’re special, but as the Christmas song goes, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.” We know that grandfathers will be there, but it’s grandma who’s really important. She’s going to do all the cooking and give out all the love. Hers is the love that holds many families together.

The phone just rang and it was my grandson Zachary. I answered and after about 20 seconds of conversation he asked, “Is Grandma Bee there?” I often wondered why he prefers to have his longer conversations with Grandma. I’ve come to the conclusion that grandmothers are much better listeners. They listen with their feelings while we grandpas listen with our computer brains turned on wanting to respond with an over-abundance of advice. Lack of patience is another factor often exhibited by many grandpas. They want instant change. Grandpas have a difficult time accepting that it takes time to evolve into an adult and want it to happen at the spoken word. Grandmas enjoy every minute of the growth process and let the kids just be kids.

Grandmas are special and I just wish I’d had an opportunity to know one of mine. My maternal grandmother died delivering my uncle Joe. He was the fifth child of a coal-mining family that lived in Mason Town, Pa. A neighbor whose child had died nursed Joe and later the family adopted him before moving to New Jersey. Joe’s adoptive parents passed away in the flu epidemic of the 1920s and Joe was sent to a boy’s industrial school in New York. My mother and her two sisters were placed in Saint Paul’s Orphanage in Pittsburgh. They stayed in the orphanage until their teen years and then came home to live with my despondent grandfather.

My mother never knew where Joe was until she received a letter from him. A friend of his adoptive family had told him about his family background. Mom went through a long, complicated process getting him back home, only to have him end up in a Detroit cemetery. He was the getaway driver in an attempted robbery and was shot to death. Sad to have lost a grandmother giving birth to another life that failed to take advantage of her sacrifice. I am writing a book on my family history, which has numerous tragedies, including my grandfather taking his own life. My dad immigrated to the U.S. after World War I. My paternal grandparents lived in Italy and never visited this country. They passed away when I was very young, so I never got to know any of my grandparents. Those of us who have never had an opportunity to experience grandma’s love find it leaves a major void in your life.

When Grandma Was Young

Last month I selected a number of old family pictures for framing. I arranged them to make up a family-history collage on my office wall. The selection included pictures of coal-mining activities, relatives and several pictures of children’s grandparents. The pictures of my wife’s mother and my mother (pictured) show two beautiful young women. They are photographed in black and white and like Ansel Adams works, they focus on the true beauty of the subject. I just never viewed my mother and mother-in-law as ever being 20-year-old, beautiful young women. To me they were always mother or grandma and they looked the part.

My kids think of their grandmothers as elderly people who were just born that way. They never get to appreciate the evolution of the person that they now see and call grandma. The beauty that was exhibited in a physical way in early years is now transformed into an inner beauty that attracts grandkids the same way it attracted suitors of years gone by.

Parents need to spend more time discussing the family history and reviewing the scrapbook of past pictures. Family histories are very important and should not be forgotten. They certainly are as important as some of the historical trivia we spend hours on in education. It could provide an excellent opportunity to review the values that made grandma evolve into the person they think is so great. The beauty in my mother’s picture isn’t ruined by overexposure of the human body or excessive jewelry. Something about the old pictures makes me want me to visit that time in the past.

Send Grandma a Special Valentine

My granddaughter Brooke just came to visit us while her parents are visiting the doctor. She’s already given me a physical check-up with her new doctor’s kit. She pronounced me “fit and fine,” ready to play with her and grandma making play-dough food. She also painted a special picture for grandma to display on the refrigerator door. The painted picture reminded me that February is the month of Valentine’s Day. It’s the time when we send all those we love a special card. I think it would be nice if this year we painted a special valentine for the grandmothers of the world, for theirs is a love like no other, and when they’re gone they’re missed more than words can explain.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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