Our Town: Grandmothers an overlooked resource

Dr Tom Ferraro

This is not a piece about storekeepers. It’s a piece about family keepers. After I did my column on the housewives of Williston Park (Jan. 13, 2013) I have wanted to follow it up with a story about that other undervalued group in town, that being the grandmothers of Williston Park. 

Two of my favorite films are about grandparents. Tokyo Story is the 1953 masterpiece by Yasujiro Uzo and is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. It helped that the luminescent film star Setsuko Hara was in it but the reason it is so cherished by the world is because of the story itself. 

It’s a simple tale of grandparents coming to visit their grown children who live in Tokyo and how they were treated as annoyances and nothing more. Uzo is called ‘the great poet of the quotidian’  because of his ability to show the profundity of daily life and in this film it reveals how grandparents can be seen as nothing but old garbage. 

The other favorite of mine is 2002 film The Way Home which won the South Korean Oscar.  It’s about a seven-year-old city born boy who is discarded by his mother for a summer and dumped at the footsteps of his grandmother’s little country shack. The grandmother is an aged, sickly mute and the devastating final scene in this film shows the amazing power of unconditional love.  

And if you turn to American films we come up pretty empty with regard to grandparenting. 

So I found some local friends who are grandparents and interviewed them about their role as grandparents.  

Gail Hain (Nanny) is a new arrival in Williston Park and has three grandchildren. Gloria Corrao (Gigi)  is from Mineola and she also has three grandkids.  

As we talked what became clear was that they both could see that as time changes the family life has become busier. Years ago we were raised with stay at home moms and had dinner served to us at 6 every night. Today this is a rarity. We now see two parents working outside the home, dinners on the fly with a combination of nannies, day care and grandparents picking up the slack. Which makes the role of the grandparent increasingly crucial. 

Both Gail and Gloria both confessed to enjoying their roles. Gail told me about teaching her granddaughters how to bake, draw and develop a love of reading. Gloria  told me how she likes to spectate at her grandkids ball games.  

Then the subject of teaching etiquette came up and how the family is the natural arena to teach social manners and social grace.  I remember how I always used to reach for food at my table until the day my grandfather came to town and how he practically chopped my fingers off when I reached for bread. “Ask for the bread to be passed, don’t reach for it!” Okay grandpa. 

Grandparents offer a place for grandkids to come and rest a little. “Can we go to Gigi’s please.” That’s what Gloria’s grandkids want to know.  

Grandparents have lived a long time and are pretty much established. I recall as a kid. We used to live in an apartment in Bayside, Queens and each summer my parents would load up the car and head up to Weld Maine where my grandparents lived. They had a beautiful stone manor in the mountains where we played in the woods and on the farm all summer long.  Thus is the value of grandparents.

There is a term called social capital that sociologists use to describe the importance of family life for children.  

My grandparents offered social capital to me by letting me have such wonderful summers. Gail and Gloria offer social capital to their grandkids as well. When you teach a child to bake this is of real value to a child’s later life. When you attend their lacrosse game this is real social capital to them and shows them they are worth something.  It shows them they are loved and cared for and protected and safe.  

When they do not have this experience they wind up in my office later in life. When they do get this kind of love from the extended family this is a form of guarantee that they are okay and that things will work out just fine.  

This is the valuable role of the grandparents of Williston Park.

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