Searching through the cupboards of my apartment this morning, looking for some edible form of breakfast, I came upon an out-dated can of tomato soup my grandmother gave me this past summer. I couldn't help but remember the day she gave it to me. I had been assigned to the Lackawanna Post Office branch, 10 minutes from her house.
After my shift ended at 3:30 p.m., I decided to visit her. Driving down Abbot Road, passing Our Lady of Victory Basilica, Hector's Hardware, and the ice cream stand, a flush of memories struck me. When I was younger, during the summertime, my father would take my brother and I to her house once a week and she would always greet all of us with a big hug and kiss and give my brother and I snacks and candy.
I remembered her homemade bird feeders, in which she turned a two-liter bottle of Pepsi into a work of art. I remembered the chestnut tree in the backyard and the window on the side of the house that I once shattered with an errand baseball. I remember when leaving her house she would slip my brother and I a dollar or two, disregarding my father's protests (which she still does).
On that particular day last summer when I rang her doorbell, unaccustomed to visitors, my grandmother didn't recognize me. She looked at me with a sense of caution, but as soon as I spoke she swung open the screen door and hugged me. Soon we made our way to the kitchen table and talked awhile. It was the first one-on-one adult conversation I ever had with my grandmother.
She is 89 years old. I just turned 21. What I learned from our conversation is that in the span of 68 years, people and society have changed greatly. Location wise, my grandmother and I grew up relatively close, 15 miles apart. Time wise, 68 years have produced a world nearly unrecognizable to the past.
In the conversation, I learned that my grandmother has lived in the same house her entire life. She cleans the house daily, and, during the summertime, manages to do light yard work. She needn't do either, as the house is always spotless, and my dad takes care of the yard. But she has a restless nature, as with many others of her generation, because they were taught to work hard, cherish and take care of what they owned.
When my grandmother was growing up there was far less emphasis on education compared to today. Presently there are more people attending college in the United States than ever before, approximately 15 million students. College never entered my grandmother's mind. Her formal education ceased after elementary school, as she entered the work force to help support her family. She explained she worked at numerous different jobs, including a candy factory, and a farm.
My grandmother worked these jobs until she married my grandfather; from then on she became a homemaker never to set foot in a workplace again. My grandfather worked at Bethlehem Steel, while my grandmother took care of her two children. This was a fairly common blue-collar family situation in the 1940s up to the 1960s. Needless to say ideas have changed drastically about women's roles in the work force, and the raising of children. Yet my grandmother still believes a women's place is at home with her children.
When speaking of today's young women, my grandmother said, "They are worse than men." She was referring to the provocative manner in which some women act and dress. Clearly women have gained personal freedom since the early 1900s. If placed back a century ago, the typical young women of today would most likely be institutionalized or strongly reprimanded.
Occasionally during the conversation, my grandmother would revert to speaking in Polish. I am half-Polish, and know nothing of the country or language. The only Polish words I know are kielbasa and pirogi. It reminded me that she is the first generation of my family born in America, and that I am only the third. In three generations, spanning close to century, I have been fully Americanized, knowing little of my roots.
As American society progresses or digresses one thing is certain: change is inevitable, on all levels of society. Whether it's for the better or worse remains to be seen. What I learned from the conversation with my grandmother was to remember and learn from the past, while keeping an alert eye on the future.