My grandmother Beatrice was born in 1913, and died in 2004, a few months after my 30th birthday. She was my last living grandparent. It has been hitting me again lately, that I have lived for more than eleven years now without grandparents. I saw my beautiful great-aunt Anne over Christmas, my grandmother Helen’s sister, and I felt the fifteen-years loss of my grandmother again. I’ve written in this space of my grandfather, John, Helen’s husband who has been gone now for almost twenty years, and of his brother Rajmund, who continued to work on the farm where he and John grew up until his death two years ago. My other grandfather, Beatrice’s husband Ralph, died when I was just a baby.
“Why are all grandparents rich?” nine year old Z asked me the other day.
“Do you think they are?” I answered, ever Socratic in my nannying.
“Well they’re always sending me money,” Z replied, and I smiled, thinking of all the birthday cards throughout the years, checks tucked carefully inside.
“I don’t know that they’re all rich,” I answered, “But they’re generous, and they love you.” On my mother’s side the checks and cards were always in my grandmother Helen’s handwriting, but once when I visited them on my own, from college, my grandfather John pulled me aside right before I left. “Don’t tell your grandmother,” he said, and pressed a carefully folded hundred dollar bill into my hand. It is one of my most precious memories of him. I know what a hundred dollars meant to him.
When I was twenty-two I wanted to do something generous myself, so I dialed the phone number for ChildFund International and asked to sponsor a child. They assigned me a boy from Uganda, and I sent him a small check every month, plus others on his birthday and holidays. After a while I set up my bank account for automatic withdrawals. I was never good at writing letters, and the small amount of money leaving my account every month never pinched. It really felt like the least I could do, literally the least, and sometimes it bothered me that it was so little. But when I was sick and had quit my ministry job and a nanny job, lying in bed feeling broken and useless, I would remember the little bank withdrawals, and read the thank you letters, and feel so grateful. My debt was piling up at the time, my last check from my grandparents cashed and spent, but I never considered giving up my sponsorship. I couldn’t do much, but I could keep sending that little bit. Plus, in 2005, a miracle had happened.
About a year after Grandma Beatrice died, my little boy from Uganda aged out of the program, and I signed up to sponsor another child. They asked me what country I preferred, and I chose to stick with Uganda. Girl or boy? they asked, and I said, it doesn’t matter. A few days later I got my packet in the mail.
It was a little girl named Beatrice.
For the first thirty years of my life, my grandmother sent me cards with checks tucked into them, and I sent her thank-you notes. For the past ten years, I have sent money to another Beatrice, and eagerly read her letters. Beatrice to Jessica, Jessica to Beatrice. Do you think the mailmen have noticed?
I don’t have children of my own, so I probably won’t ever be a grandparent. But what a blessing to have had two children in Uganda that I can give to in some small way, children that grew up writing thank you cards just like I did. I hope they know that I am not rich, but that I love them, and that a very little bit of generosity on my part has been more than repaid, in fact, has been prepaid through my grandparents’ love for me.
Beatrice N. recently graduated from college and will turn 22 this month. Congratulations, dear one, and happy birthday. I’ve sent my little gift. Imagine it tucked discretely into a card, signed not just by me but by Helen and John, too, and Ralph, and another Beatrice, with all our love.
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To find out more about sponsoring a child through Child Fund International, go to https://www.childfund.org/.