“iaios” and heroes and how to take advantage of our grandparents

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”

Marcus Garvey

I am a mother

Apart from that I am a  sister, granddaughter, cousin and niece

I used to have grandparents, and many uncles and aunts.

I still have my brother and sisters, cousins and luckily also nephews and nieces.

But, unfortunately, by law of nature and because I am over 60 years old, neither my grandparents nor my parents are alive any more. As a matter of fact just a couple of months ago my father in law passed away, unfortunately in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic.

And – as I believe happens often – after my parents and grandparents passed away I have often thought I should have talked to them more.

Normally we love our parents, but also normally we take them for granted, and too often our conversations just are about our normal daily problems.

As children or teenagers we speak with them about our future, about school, about the present, our favourite football club, our boy- or girl friends…

Later on we speak about our partners, our children (their grandchildren), our work…

And once they’re old and retired we usually just speak about their health, our children and about the rest of the family.

I mean, we usually talk about ourselves…

Last week we saw with our son a movie, it was about a couple of boys during the second world war. It was also about daily life in that period, and about what the war really meant and the continuous threat for normal people.

We loved the movie.

After that my son locked himself in his bedroom to play with his Playstation.

And I just thought: we usually watch movies about the past, about wars, after war, the fifties or the sixties, but we usually are not aware that we have first-rate witnesses of these periods.

Rosa Mari y Roberto

First of all ourselves

I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. Times of the Beatles, hippies, Woodstock, of free love and student demonstrations. We did not have cell phones nor videogames. We used to go everywhere by bike and by train. Whenever you went somewhere it was quite normal to be days or even weeks without having any contact with your family.

And this was normal

When I was a student I never had a television, and did not miss it at all. Apart from that television at the time just had 2 channels, started at 7 o’clock in the afternoon and in weekends started at 3 o’clock.

People used to smoke everywhere, we were just not aware of the risk of cancer. Wherever you went, also in bars or restaurants, there used to be a smoke hanging in the air.

When we were children we went out to play, in the streets, in the parks. Our parents never knew exactly where we were until we came home.


And this was normal

At our place the front door never was locked. Only at night time, before he went to sleep, my father used to close the door from the inside.

I went to high school (since I was 12 years old) about 15 kms from my home. This meant going to school by bike 15 kms in the morning and 15 kms in the afternoon. We left home at 7 o’clock in the morning and in wintertime we used to arrive home when it was already dark. And I prepared (warmed up) my own food.

And all this was normal

I have 2 grown up daughters, and at some point I have told them about my times as a student, and they hallucinate when I tell them that in our times we also smoked joints, we went out at night until morning hours, we had a sex life, and we had the same worries they have now.

I am quite sure many “oldies” of my age recognize many of the aspects in this portrait I just painted.

Mengual family

Let’s take this a step further

Let’s look at the generation of our parents (and grandparents of our children).

First of all the Spanish part. (I am dutch but I married a Spaniard and the grandparents of my daughters were Spaniards)

They grew up before the Spanish Civil war. Lean times, there just was no food. I know that the grandfather of my daughters was a soldier during the civil war (he was a communist), and he was caught and spend time in a concentration camp. He had a cousing who was send to Russia, and disappeared at some point, they never knew what happened to him.

The brother of my mother in law was the first mortal victim of the civil war in the aerea (as a matter of fact the main street of Denia during a couple of years was named after him, Calle José Roselló Sivera)

My mother in law often told us about this period, about how they hardly managed to get food on the table, even smuggling!!  And about the conflicts between neighbours whom belonged to the enemy side in the war.

The brother of my first husband and father of my daughters was killed in the beginning of the 60’s. Up to today nobody knows why or by whom.

Now the Dutch part.

My parents’ childhood took place during the second world war. Holland was occupied by the Germans. My father used to tell us stories about how during the war in winters they had to go over the ice to the neighboring town to collect coal for the stoves.

During his military service he intervened as a soldier on his 20th birthday in 1953, when in Zeeland during the floods died almost 2000 people.

My mother told stories of pilots who who were hiding in her house (they lived on a farm) during the Second World War, and in the famine winter (1944-1945) queues of people would come from capitals to ask for food.

Samson family, I’m sitting on my mothers’ lap

I think all these stories are as good or better than any movie. Because it’s about real life. Our parents and grandparents are the main characters.

As I said before my father in law – and grandfather of my 16 year old son – died just 5 months ago. He was 94 years old. Just a couple of years before he died we gave him for his birthday a notebook, and asked him to write down whatever he remembered about his childhood. We wanted our son to know what his grandfathers’ daily life was like when he was a teenager, what they played, what they thought about, what schools were like…

People often talk about the wisdom of grandparents, I sincerely doubt that they are much wiser than us, but they have lived longer, and for that alone it is worth listening to them. I believe that if we encourage our children to listen to their grandparents, and we encourage our elders to share their experiences, we all win.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

George Santayana
iaio – en memoriam

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