Last week I lost the relative I was closest to in my family, my grandma Laddie Yamada. She was quite the influence in my life and someone I will never forget. No one really forgets their grandparents, so that is nothing unusual; however, I had a situation with my grandparents that is still relatively unusual but one that seems more usual the more I hear others stories growing up. I lived with my grandmother and grandfather my senior year of high school and through college.
The fact that I even went to college is a bit of a miracle in and of itself. Prior to moving in with grandparents after my parents’ divorce and my not getting along with my mom’s odd boyfriend, I finished my last semester at Gresham High School with a 1.8 GPA.
I can probably count the times I did homework at home on one hand up to that time in my life nor do I recall one situation where my parents showed much interest for my education other than the obligatory look at a report card. Now I didn’t always do a 1.8 GPA, in fact I only did that once. I got mostly As, Bs, and a rare C. So I wasn’t a bad student by any measure. The 1.8 GPA came after the divorce and with me living in my parents’ old house with our neighbor who rented it while their new home was being built. My mom, brother and sister had already moved back to Los Angeles (we moved to Portland when I was 6 years old from LA.) Let’s just say I enjoyed my freedom that last half of my junior year of high school.
I share this because I was at a crossroads. Moving out of my mom’s boyfriend’s house was good by me after only living there for a month or two. Besides, I “lived” on an army cot in a pool house that was infested with ants with her boyfriend playing country western music loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear it. The guy was a total ass and eventually had problems with the law threatening his neighbor with a gun. I still have a theory to this day that going nuts and wanting to shoot things, like your neighbor, is the natural result of listening to country music 24/7 at loud volumes.
Long story short, my grandparents took me in. It was a radically different environment from my mom’s new life and even my prior life pre-divorce. The first notable thing was the amount of things to pick-up and read throughout the house – things being books, magazines, and newsletters. In my parents’ house, the only thing to read lying around was TV Guide. No joke.
Living where you are in arm’s reach of reading something is a very different experience. I kept picking up things to read. All of it, stuff I had never read before and I found the more it was around the more I did this. I’d flip through a stack of magazines one afternoon reading various articles and the next day read some political newsletter. I even started reading books. Up until this time, I had read one book cover to cover for school: Of Mice and Men.
My grandmother had a lot of politically conservative things to read in the house including Reason and Insight magazines, newsletters from Patrick J Buchanan and Ron Paul. She had one newsletter that came monthly that I always read cover to cover called Imprimus. It was from a small conservative college in Michigan that took no government funding and would have talks from visiting politicians, heads of state, and thought leaders that adorned the pages of Imprimus. It was my senior year of high school that I became very aware of Hillsdale College and how I wanted to attend it, but I was broke and my grandparents were never ones for recommending taking loans of any kind.
So I finished my senior year of high school with a 3.75 GPA after changing my perspective and being very active with school, including doing homework and reading what I was assigned plus more. I even started my first writing as a staff member on the school paper, writing about politics and current events from a conservative, libertarian perspective, back then defending Exxon during the oil spill and criticizing Hillary Clinton. I was a good little right-winger.
Living with my grandparents I went to Pasadena City Community College and took night classes. I worked a couple jobs mostly as a teller at Bank of America and at the same time working in customer service at Six Flags Magic Mountain. I saved like crazy to afford Hillsdale College with grandma very supportive of what I was doing. I did also get some financial support from my dad to add to my savings as he had taken my child support and sent it to my grandparents who put it all towards my college fund.
Eventually my grandma and I went to Michigan to look at a couple schools focusing mostly on Hillsdale. We toured the campus and also Albion College, but knew Hillsdale was “our first choice.” It was my first choice, but it was clearly hers too.
I applied and was accepted and graduated from there in winter 1994, I stayed an extra semester as a transfer student to finish all my credits. I learned a lot and changed from an Economics major going in to an English major going out, mostly because my political mind was changing and I had also burned myself out on reading a lot of Economic books during high school and community college. I also met Stephanie who would later become my wife and mother to our wonderful twin boys.
None of this would’ve ever happened without my grandparents, and mostly my grandma. It was the environment she lived that influenced me. There were piles of books, a garden in the backyard to use for cooking, and the constant care and encouragement to think big. That last part was always there long before moving in with them. It manifested itself in many ways growing up. Whether it was my taking an interest in Impressionist art at 10 years old and having my grandparents buy me pastels and draw with me. Or when I wanted to make a rug and we went to the sewing place to learn how to do latch-hook rug making. Or when I loved skateboarding and they drove me to my first skate park.
I wasn’t spoiled. It was never about getting the latest toy or buying me something that was ostentatious or doing whatever I demanded as a did. It was about listening and being a smart parent then responding in a positive way as an opportunity to enrich a child’s life.
I had that feeling and that care far more from my grandparents than my parents. That’s not a knock at my parents, they had their own challenges in life and like every parent were learning what being a parent is about, plus I was the first kid. Also, my grandparents weren’t perfect parents either; though, they were perfect grandparents at least for me.
My grandfather Yoshio passed away several years ago and that was very hard. He was definitely the most loved and respected person in our family. Everyone loved grandpa. Laddie was far more complex than I want to share here. For me, her passing away last week meant I lost someone very special in my life. She was someone who dramatically changed my life for the better in so many wonderful ways.
Peace grandma. Thanks for instilling a love of reading and cooking in my life and mostly thanks for being involved in an unconditional loving way. I love you and will miss you.