Cherishing the past: "No one can take our memories"

by Jordan Green

Even in a world filled with constant change, some things stay the same.

Memories. No one can take them away from us.

In the last week, I’ve been fortunate enough to make some special ones with my grandparents. My paternal grandparents, forever dubbed Grandmother and Papa Tuck, and my maternal grandparents, Mimi and Papa.

I’m 21, a legal adult in every way, but those will always be their names.

I started my week by having dinner with Grandmother and Papa Tuck at our favorite restaurant: Cattleman’s Steakhouse in Oklahoma City. We’ve met there for years to celebrate holidays and birthdays. Sometimes, we go just to catch up.

The food is delicious, and it sets us up for a pleasant evening telling familiar familial tales – anecdotes that are near and dear to my heart.

I’ve always loved my hometown of Sayre in western Oklahoma. While I only lived there for two years, I visit it frequently. Grandmother and Papa Tuck were raised there, and they tell me stories about their youth. They also tell me stories about my ornery dad’s childhood there.

I always chuckle. From what he’s told me, they don’t know half of what he did growing up. But never mind.

They also tell me about the town’s history. How my ancestors started businesses there and made an honest living by providing goods and services to their neighbors. In the pre-refrigerator era, what would Sayre have done without a distilled ice company? My family built one, likely saving thousands of gallons of ice cream for the townspeople for years to come.

Obviously, my priorities are in order.

Later in the week, I went to Tulsa to visit Mimi and Papa. Mimi’s cooking puts four-star restaurants to shame. Don’t believe me? Just look at Papa’s belly (and, before long, mine as well).

And Papa’s stories. He grew up working long days on his family farm, weeding fields and hoeing crops for hours on end. Often, his only respite from hot, sunny summer days at work was a game of baseball at school. He was a fantastic player at Asher – which any baseball fan knows as Oklahoma’s baseball heaven.

The stories Papa has from his military service, his work as a carpenter and his career as a pastor are captivating. Even more captivating are the lessons he learned from these life experiences, which he passes on to me.

I have a particular fondness for a story he told me over dinner. One day in his youth, he and some friends went to a small town he’d never visited before. One of the friends knew almost everyone there by name, but had never lived there himself.

When Papa asked how he knew so many people, the friend replied that he met people there just by being – as he was to my Papa – friendly. After that day, Papa made up his mind to be friendly to everyone he came across, too, he said. That characteristic has since defined not only his personality, but also his ministry. What a wonderful trait it is.

Mimi has a powerful ministry, too. A lifelong musician, she can play the piano with finesse and fervor. She played every Sunday at church for years. At home, her rendition of “The Sabre Dance” – pounded out at lightning speed at our family functions, reverberating across the wooden floor in the living room – still brings a smile to my face.

I can hear every note in my head. I can picture the way her fingers gently lift off the keys of her baby grand piano as she slowly, softly and sweetly plays “Last Date” by Floyd Cramer.

Oh, the stories, sights and sounds of their home. Not to mention the smells. Nothing compares to the aroma that fills the house as she cooks up her signature chicken fried steak with crisp brown breading, lathered in homemade brown gravy and accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes.

She uses the same recipes over and over again. She’s made this food for years. And it never gets old. Never, ever goes out of style. Always tastes fresh. Always leaves me wanting more – but with no more gastrointestinal room in which to store it.

It might seem that all of my interactions with my grandparents involve food. For the most part, they do. But not all of them. One thing that all interactions do involve, though? Hugs. Each grandparent has his or her own style of hugging, determined in part by height. But each hug is filled with the same endless love.

I could reminisce for days about the memories I have with my grandparents, and this makes me the luckiest man in the world; only recently did I learn that so many people don’t have this ability. Because they never had these opportunities.

While we were in conversation about my weekend plans, a colleague told me that she’d never met her grandparents. They died before she was born.

The somber conversation made me think, and it happened at just the right time. When I saw my grandparents in the days following, I better understood just how meaningful our time together is.

Here I am, having spent my entire life loving – and being loved by – people I don’t think I could live without. People I have happy memories with – memories I will always have.

And if you take the time to make a memory with someone you love, you can, too.