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Value of family values... priceless - Gerry Yandel

Sitting across the dinner table and listening to a fan of the "Young and the Restless" describe the rakish charm of Victor -- the older Victor, not the younger one -- is not that unique of a situation.

Except that it is when the "YAR" fan is your 98-year-old grandmother.

Almost as religiously as she watches her soap opera, my grandmother, Genevieve Yandel, has been fleeing the winter winds of Chicago for the sunnier climate on the south side of Atlanta for the past few years. She usually arrives a couple of days after New Year's and stays with my dad in Stockbridge through the Super Bowl, before heading back to the chilly north.

And, at dinner the other night, listening to her talk about the dashing character Victor and the current shenanigans on the soap opera was just one part of a fascinating evening.

As you might expect, being 98 has its drawbacks physically. My grandmother uses a walker to get around, and she watches TV with the sound turned way up and through a magnifying glass.

Mentally, though, my grandmother is as sharp as she ever was. She can tick off the names, birthdays and familial ties of 37 grandkids and 37 great-grandkids without missing a beat. And, she knows the current news -- who's pregnant, who's getting married, who's working where -- for each and every one of us.

And, sitting around the dinner table the other evening, I became a little kid again, asking her questions and listening to her stories about when I was a kid.

My grandmother is a first-generation American who arrived as a young girl from Ireland, and she has always been a strong-spirited woman. She is the matriarch of a large family of 10 children -- seven boys and three girls -- whom she raised in Chicago while married to my grandfather, George Yandel, a milk man with 35 years on the job.

It was a humbling experience to listen to stories of my grandfather, who died when I was only 18 and still very much enamored with myself. He was one of the last milk men to drive a horse-drawn cart on his delivery route, and he was robbed at gunpoint twice in one week while on the job.

Of course, there were also stories about my father's episodes of childhood misadventure... unfortunately, nothing to file away for later or that even compared with my own youthful indiscretions. And we had some laughs about my grandmother's understanding of technology and how she initially thought sending an e-mail from Chicago to France meant everyone in the world could read it.

In the near-century that my grandmother has been alive, she has seen countless miraculous advances in all areas of life. Nonetheless, she hasn't really changed her approach to life, and her hsitory is a happy one of simplicity, honesty and hard work... traits that seem to find less and less importance in today's hectic and disjointed society.

That is one of the best lessons I took from that simple meatloaf dinner.

It served as a good reminder that every now and then it is a good idea to stop looking ahead for what the future brings and to glance back at how today was built.

Gerry Yandel is the city editor of the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at gyandel@henryherald.com