“Long Distance Birthday Parties,” Ensign, Aug. 1978, 58
Long Distance Birthday Parties
Our children are blessed with ten grandparents of varying degrees of greatness and almost too many aunts and uncles to count. When our first daughter, Jennifer, was still very young, we lived in Germany and so were unable to associate with our American relatives. Consequently, Jennifer had difficulty keeping their identities clear in her mind. “Which grandma sent me this doll?” she would ask. “Grandma Margaret or Nana or Grandma Hoffman or who?”
The longer we were away from home the more blurred their images became until my husband, Gary, and I decided that we would somehow have to help her know them better.
The solution presented itself after a particularly successful Christmastime family home evening when we celebrated the Savior’s birth, complete with cake and ice cream. Jennifer was almost as thrilled with this birthday party as she was with her own. And that was the key.
We decided that if she became so excited about birthdays, we would introduce her to her grandparents by celebrating their birthdays during our family home evenings throughout the year.
We began with Great-grandfather Jones’s birthday in February. In the afternoon Jennifer and I baked and frosted a birthday cake, deciding that we really couldn’t put eighty candles on top.
That evening Gary told simple stories from Grandpa Jones’s life, illustrating them with photographs and sketching in background details from Grandpa’s personal history: When Grandpa was a little boy, people didn’t have cars, so they traveled by horse. (Here Gary showed a picture of Grandpa on a horse.) When the family moved from place to place they sometimes lived in tents until they could build a house.
Then Gary and I shared our own recollections of Grandpa Jones—that he had been a witness at our wedding and that he was an expert gardener. We helped Jennifer remember the last time she had seen him by bringing out vacation snapshots of her with her great-grandfather.
Grandpa Jones had been a melon farmer in his earlier years, and so with our cake we ate frozen cantaloupe balls, a special treat for Jennifer who had never tasted cantaloupe before.
Instead of putting away the pictures and histories after Jennifer went to bed that night, Gary and I were drawn to examine them more closely. We discovered that we had no pictures of our grandparents as young people, and that in Grandpa Jones’s personal history were very few stories of his childhood.
That same evening we wrote a long, newsy letter to the grandparents, explaining our birthday project and asking them to fill in the gaps in our records. (We received much positive response to these requests when we recorded subsequent parties and included a tape with our letters.)
The information that we received helped us introduce variations into our birthday parties, such as serving Grandpa Verne’s favorite strawberry pie or Poppa’s own chow mein recipe.
The parties were so helpful and fun that we were sad to see the year end. However, we plan to repeat the program, with modifications, as our children get older. We also hope to “get acquainted” with aunts, uncles, and even deceased grandparents in the same way.
As our children get older, we anticipate their greater participation in the parties. For example, they could help us discover what kind of world our great-grandparents lived in and what events occurred at the time our birthday grandparent was a given age. But the purpose will remain the same: to help our children, and ourselves, feel closer to our forefathers.
As it is, Jennifer now knows one grandparent from another, and she also helps her younger sister distinguish between them. “That’s a picture of Grandma Tonkovich—you know, the one who was a cheerleader and who likes to sew us pretty dresses.”
The day will come when they can share that information with their children, and the hearts of the great-great-grandchildren will be turned, in love and appreciation, to their eternal family.