To modify an old Celtic axiom: If you're lucky enough to have living grandparents, you're lucky enough.
We paid final tribute to my last surviving grandparent, Edith Kelley, age 102 years and 10 months, on Wednesday, and while tears were inevitably shed, it truly was more a celebration of her life than a mourning.
Any centenarian has witnessed remarkable changes in technology. The world of Edith Kelley — aka "Granny" to all who knew her, related or not — as a toddler, child and adolescent in rural South Dakota is so different from today's that virtually no aspect of daily living is the same.
But in addition to attaining a far above average lifespan in terms of years, Granny also experienced an unusually diverse career. From stellar typist and shorthand specialist as a high school student, and forced into the work force while pregnant with her second child after my grandfather was critically injured in a car accident, Granny would go on to exemplary executive assistant achievements at the local, state and national level.
Her career path took her to unimagined heights professionally and geographically — she served in the Eisenhower administration, operating near the vice president's office in the Executive Office Building next to the White House. Before and after that, she worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and in addition to Washington, D.C., also lived in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
With the Corps, and later with a private engineering firm, she traveled to four continents, always returning with souvenirs and stories from her journeys to Europe, the Orient, Africa and Australia.
After her second retirement, she wanted to come "home," which meant the place where her two sons and half-dozen grandchildren lived: Arkansas. Once situated here in 1980, she would work another 30 years with two of her grandsons in their insurance office before her third and final retirement at age 95.
Granny loved attending family reunions, and I was lucky enough to land the role of "driving Ms. Edith" on many of those genealogical jaunts. Several summers in my 20s had me behind the wheel of her massive sedan, off to visit various relatives in places like her hometown of Madison, South Dakota, and cousins' residences in Iowa.
We motored to upstate New York to see the Thousand Islands and Niagara Falls; to Washington, D.C., and Williamsburg, Virginia; to Boston, Massachusetts, Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, and Bar Harbor, Maine.
Hours and hours of road time made for discussions about topics serious and silly, competitive contests of the "alphabet game," and itinerary planning and evaluations.
In relationship jargon, it was Quality Time of the purest pedigree. There were no smartphones or social media to occupy her time in the passenger seat or our rest stops at eateries and hotels. While on the highway, we were disconnected from the tether of normal life and routines.
Looking back, I can't help but think how different, in a detrimental way, our trips might have been if taken today.
We did a lot of reminiscing as a family on Wednesday, with each grandchild and great-grandchild (all 14 of them) reflecting on the individuality of their remembrances. Granny had an insatiable curiosity about all her different descendants; she was the constant, the North Star, around which we all revolved in widely ranging orbits, and she relished hearing and learning about each separate path.
One of my bonds with Granny was the love of reading, and in later years she loved for me to read aloud to her. Or at least, I loved doing it and she made me believe she did, too.
Her generation's schooling was mightily influenced by the "fireside poets" of the late 19th century, and so some of her favorite verses were from the pens of Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes and Lowell.
She would always recite Longfellow's "The Children's Hour" along with me as I read, having memorized it as a child, and perhaps reveling in the stanza describing his daughters as "grave Alice, laughing Allegra and Edith with golden hair."
My grandmotherly contemplations during this week have led me to offer an admonition and a recommendation.
First — and this is addressed to anyone who has living grandparents, but especially to younger folks: Make a commitment to spend more time with someone who's seen a lot of years. It will enrich you both.
If you don't have grandparents of your own, get to know another elderly person. Granny grandmothered a number of her grandchildren's friends, some of whom sent funeral flowers or notes yet hadn't seen her in 40 years — but well — remembered their time with her.
Second, it's time to get some public momentum behind changing the date of Grandparents Day. Right now it's the first Sunday after Labor Day, which I doubt anyone knows without looking it up (I didn't).
I propose Dec. 26. The English Boxing Day tradition never took hold on this side of the pond, and the Yuletide is already a well-established time for cherishing family connections.
It'd be easy to imagine a tradition of visiting grandparents the day after Christmas, with children being the beneficiaries of a second gift-opening session.
Who's with me?
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro, Arkansas.