Grandparents and Elders
by Paty Jager
September 27, 2022
Growing up, my paternal grandparents lived with us. Seven people in an old farmhouse with three bedrooms and one bathroom. At the time, I was too busy trying to keep out of my grandmother’s way to realize there was information she could have given me about being a cook on a large cattle ranch in Nebraska, working and baking cakes for a lunch counter in Anacortes, Washington, and I’m not sure what she did when they lived in Texas.
My paternal grandparents moved around a lot, chasing a living. Where my grandmother was strict, my grandfather rarely said anything. He did his work, milking cows, herding sheep, and helping with the irrigating and haying. In the winter he sat by the wood stove reading westerns. He always had a smile on his face.
While these two lived with us for ten years and then only 50 yards from us after that, I never really learned much about them. What I do know is what my dad told me later on after they had passed.
Then there were my maternal grandparents who I only saw once a year after my parents had made enough money and received enough vacation time that we would spend two weeks in California visiting my mom’s side of the family.
These grandparents were open, talked about everything, and (Grandma Maude) would sit each one of us kids down with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and ask us how school was going and what we wanted to do when we grew up. If she didn’t like our choice of profession, she would talk about other careers that were good.
Having someone older in your life who is willing to talk to you and listen to you, is the best thing a grandparent or elder can do for a child.
This is why I am so interested in the Indigenous lifestyle. The elders- grandparents, aunts, and uncles in many of the tribes took on the role of teaching the children. It made sense. The older people had slowed down, doing easier jobs and had the time to talk to the children, tell stories that reflected the way to live, and helped them to learn the tasks needed to survive.
There are too many children today who haven’t had any guidance. Not from grandparents or parents. The parent and grandparents are the role models for the children that they bring into this world.
The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is true. If children knew they were being watched by everyone around them and needed to treat all adults and children around them with respect, this world would be a much happier and healthier place for all.
In my Shandra Higheagle mystery series, the main character Shandra Higheagle was kept from her paternal family by her non-Indian mother and stepfather. One summer as a teenager, she visits that grandmother when her mother and stepfather go on a trip. While there she wonders at feeling out of place and why she thought she could run to her father’s family and feel like she belonged. Then years later as an adult she realizes how much that one week with her paternal grandmother and shaped her and she returns to visit only to discover the grandmother is gone. In the series, the deceased grandmother comes to Shandra in dreams. In the dreams, she gives Shandra clues to the identity of the murderers.
In my Gabriel Hawke novels, my main character, Gabriel Hawke, asks his mother for advice and guidance. While he is a man in his 50s, he realizes how much his mother knows and how giving she is by babysitting for single parents on the reservation.
Grandfather Thunder is a secondary character in my Spotted Pony Casino mysteries who not only knows a lot about life but also about the people who live or have lived on the Umatilla Reservation. His knowledge helps Dela Alvaro, the main character quite a bit as she tries to keep her job as head of security at the Spotted Pony Casino. Her mother and other elders on the reservation help to instill information to Dela as she works with the FBI and Tribal Police to find killers.
As I grow older, I realize how much wisdom I’ve attained through miss-steps and through accomplishments. This is all information and help I can pass on to my kids and grandkids.
Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story. Learn more about her at her website.