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Here and around the world, grandparents remain a cherished part of family life

By Muriel Duncan

They were my favourite Sundays, those Mission Band days. Halfway through the service, the children of White-church (Ont.) United would be allowed to leave their parents' straight-backed pews and file out with my Grandmother Moore to her house two doors down the street.

Mission Band, led by my grandmother in her parlour, was filled with stories of what seemed to me very exotic parts of the world. In our World Friends booklets, we saw children in very different clothes, who probably used words we wouldn't understand and ate food we'd never heard of. And yet they were just like us, God's children. And because of that, we put our pennies and nickels into our little mission boxes for these children if they needed help.

As valuable as these early world-view influences were, my Grandmother Moore's gifts to me were wider and deeper. We were happy companions in my early years; everything we did together seemed to belong to a magic place both childlike and grown-up: boarding a train for a trip to the nearby town, singing songs from the radio together, trying on the jewelry she collected for me in a treasure box, learning about my father when he was younger.

She gave me love beyond anything I had earned. Even as a pre-schooler, I recognized and trusted that gift, although I doubt I thanked her enough. My childhood was blessed by having not only loving parents but four attentive grandparents within two miles of us. Today, fewer children have the luxury of an extended family at such close range. They may divide their week between two sets of parents and after-school activities and only have phone or e-mail contact with grandparents in other countries.

But the love of a grandparent remains a potent force for good, and this month our cover story honours that bond with stories from our readers (page 27). Grandparents are there when you need a warm meal and someone to listen, when you are short on your college tuition fees, when you feel no one believes in you.

We often see them Sunday mornings, bringing their children's children to church and Sunday school, seizing a second chance to pass on the faith that sustains them.

The fierce dedication of a grandparent not only widens the circle of love that all children require but often also holds the family unit together. In 2001, Statistics Canada showed nearly half a million grandparents living with an adult child and grandchildren, and 56,700 grandparents in "skip-generation households" where grandparents and grandchildren form families without parents.

American studies find that trend growing, especially in the inner city. In parts of Africa where families have been devastated by the AIDS pandemic, weary grandmothers who've watched all their children die are now raising the grandchildren left behind.

They've shared their wisdom, been our models and stepped in when life got messy. Grandparents may not get thanked much at the time, but over the years, their memory is polished in our hearts and we long to tell them how much we owe them.

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