Growing up, my grandparents lived ninety minutes away. Once a month, we'd make the trek to the Bay Area to visit. At dinner time, we’d sit at a small table—4 kids, two parents, and two grandparents. No matter how little the elbow room was, the table was always properly set: bread plate, salad bowl, and water glass on the right, above the knife.
At some point, every dinner around that table would consist of Andy, Kelly and me arguing over who got to use the one children’s plate with the little Pluto caricature printed on it, probably leftover from my uncle’s childhood. There would be conversations about Granny’s cooking, whether or not Gramps would make us watch the Lawrence Welk Show after dinner, and how picky of an eater I was.
Gramps always led the mission to get me to eat everything on my plate. The Great Depression and hard times from my gramps’ childhood would never be mentioned. However, starving children in China might be brought up and so would my gramps’ and granny’s excellent health.
“I don’t know why you won’t eat everything here, Amanda. I eat everything your gran puts before me, and look at me, my health is great.
I don’t think you realize how good you’ve got it.”
As I cringed through bites of things like baked salmon or tomato casserole, my gramps would notice the remains of a French bread slice on my plate. I had buttered my bread, consumed the soft insides and left crusty, bitter outsides behind.
“You know, Amanda. Crust gives you curly hair. You should eat your crusts. Wouldn’t you like curly hair?”
As a child of the eighties, all I wanted in life was big hair and bangs—curled up high with a few wisps on my forehead.
I remember when my mom let me perm my hair in third grade, and I crossed my fingers for body and height and curls. The permanent did not live up to my expectations and fell out in a month’s time.
With hope for better tresses, I started eating my crusts. Religiously. I guess I thought the heat-kissed outsides of bread held some kind of hair-curling nutrient. I was in seventh grade brushing out my fine, straight hair when it occurred to me: I had been eating my crusts for years and still didn’t even have a wave. I’d been duped. Bread crusts having magic hair-curling properties was a myth just like tooth fairies, Santa Claus, and “don’t make that face or it’ll stay that way permanently.”
As my gramps is living out his last days--hospice has been called, his body is shutting down, he has forgotten who each one of his grandkids are--I feel like I am grieving the loss of my granny, my childhood days spent at their house all over again along with grieving the loss of my gramps.
I am mourning the passing of a generation. As my parents become my grandparents and I become my parents, I marvel at the way time marches onward, and it does not stop.
Gramps, Granny and my dad. Circa 1952
When you leave this earth, you can’t take anything with you; you can only leave behind. I think it's in all of us to want to know that at the end of our life that we will leave behind something that's good, something that lasts, something that keeps getting passed on.
As I try to think of what it is my Gramps would pass on, I think of bread crusts. The way as a child I wanted to just eat the soft insides and avoid the bitterness and hardness of the crust. The way I didn’t want to eat what wasn’t pleasant.
Honest, sometimes I try to live my whole life that way. I open my hand to the beautiful wedding day, the snuggles and the I-love-you-to-the-moon-and-backs, the house and the backyard. But sometimes I want to close my hand to the hard: the hard parts in marriage, the temper tantrums in the grocery stores, the miscarriages, the job losses, the times of more month than money. I see the good stuff as a gift, but I fail to see the value in the hard stuff.
My grandparents were crust eaters. Overcomers. Hard workers. People who married for life even on the bad days. People who lived through wars and Depressions and things like the death of a grandchild, a disabling injury, and many cross country (even cross world) moves. They were people who knew the value of everything put on their plate.
They knew how good they had it.
(Left) My gramps and granny on their wedding day. Wasn't my gramps handsome? (Right) circa 2003
To this day, I still eat my crust. And I am learning to “eat my crust” here where sometimes it’s hard and it doesn’t always make sense or seem fair.
I might not have curly hair, but I know how good I’ve got it.
Care to reminisce with me? What is one thing your grandparents always told you to do?