What’s that look in your eye, grandma?


They love the water. It’s a mobility thing.

My African Grandparents

After all the sadness that came with losing my girlfriend’s last remaining grandparent, I can’t help but feel immensely blessed that all 4 of my grandparents are still with me.

That’s actually untrue. My paternal grandfather passed away when I was a few months old. He died from pneumonia, a result of his lung cancer. But when I was a few years old, my grandmother remarried a man named John, and they’ve been together ever since.

Grandma Ba and Grandpa John live in Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, just north of South Africa. Prior to that, my grandmother lived in a number of places, traveling around, before settling in the Bahamas for more than a decade. Grandpa John traveled around a lot as well, as both he and my late grandfather were in the Royal Air Force together. That took them to places like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka.

Living in Sub-Saharan Africa, you might imagine my grandparents as black, but both of them were actually born in small white towns in the British countryside. Grandpa John’s father was the town’s police officer. My grandmother describes her childhood life as living on a street where her grandparents’ house was on her left and her aunt and uncle lived to her right. Where everyone had their own fruit-bearing trees, but it was still fun to go and steal fruit from other people’s gardens. Of course, it was never stealing, you see. Stealing fruit is called “scrumping”, and like all British English, sounds adorable.


In spite of living in Africa, or maybe because of it, John turned 90 this past week.

On my father’s side, my grandparents are very active, and even now as they approach the end of their lives, they remain very focused on doing things. That’s the key. My mother works in physical therapy, and the bigger indicator of whether or not someone can recover quickly is not age, but rather how active someone is.

But their ability is decreasing. They can make little walks out for 10-20 minutes, but we haven’t attempted too much longer. Every few hours, John goes to sleep. He’s a little shaky when holding heavy things.

There was debate this time as to whether or not they’d be able to make the trip out here, but it worked out. Perhaps this will be the last time they are able to come here. The thought crosses my mind. I’m sure it weighs a little heavier on them.

On my mother’s side, my grandparents both recently turned 80 and 81. They stay moving too, organizing events and helping out in their retirement community. They look good and seem well.

But it’s odd, that with everyone’s image of Japanese people having the longest lives, my grandparents are all around when my girlfriend’s aren’t.


In either case, more recently, I’ve started to see my time with them all as limited.

Younger me never worried about the time I had left with them. Grandparents, though fun to be around, were not as fun as friends. They didn’t connect with child me on the same level that games or TV did.

But as I get older, it becomes obvious that their stories are interesting. And, like Tim Urban says, “I don’t know you, but I can almost guarantee that you don’t ask your grandparents (or older parents) enough questions about their lives and the lives of their parents.” That they’re knowledgeable and fun to be around on a deeper, emotional level. And these stories they have are only being contained in their brain, something that will not last forever.

And so with this past week, I stayed with my visiting grandparents and, though I got very little actual work done, learned a heck of a lot about their lives.

They want to talk, of course. There’s always another story, around the corner, with a little prompting. But there’s interrupting that goes on too. And sometimes I just want the truth, from one of their eyes, not both. I suppose that’s a couple problem, not necessarily an elderly one.


Since they’ve arrived a week ago, four of Grandma Ba’s and Grandpa John’s friends have already died. They’re getting to that age, they say. These things become more common. Even though it can happen at any time, they’ve entered the point in life where a lot of life starts ending.

They’ll be visiting here for another month. Hopefully.

In that time, I hope to spend more time with them. And maybe avoid some of my responsibilities to do it. Just talk. Take time. Learn.

Because this time we all have is pretty limited.

. . .

Also, Grandma Ba and Grandpa John sometimes bring money back from Zimbabwe. Like this 2 dollar note, from this year.



But my prized possession is this 20,000,000,000 dollar note, from 2008.




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