Making him happy
December 19, 2012 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan weekly surprises for my grandfather!

Hello Hive!

My grandparents are originally from Mexico and they are now living here in the States with an aunt of mine. My 86 year old grandfather has spent his whole life on his ranch, with his cows and crops so being stuck in a house all day is really hard on him (he has loads of problems with his knees, a mild case of Parkinson’s and he’s lost a lot of mobility so he can’t really walk or move much). I’ve been working on recording some of their stories to include in a photo album I am creating of old photographs. He gets rather cheerful when he gets to tell me his stories as I’m really the only one who ever asks him, so its more of him being happy for the attention I think, which is great! I want to see him happier and excited, so I thought for 2013 every week I want to surprise him with something new. There are many things he’s never tried and never seen that I want to share that with him. So Hive, can you give me some ideas as to what surprises I can share with him?

A few questions to get you thinking:

- What are things you’ve tried that you are so happy you’ve tried before you died?
- Treats, foods, little experiences are things I’m looking for
- Things that have accompanying stories
- What are things we can do together as grandfather and granddaughter?

A few facts about my grandfather:

- He has 12 sons and daughters and +60 grandchildren, +15 great-grandchildren, 3 great-great-grandbabies
- LOVES candy, chocolate, dessert, sweets
- He used to be the mayor of his town in Mexico and was very well known for speech writing and political strategy, he watches the news and Mexican politics news all day
- He refuses to leave the house without his gorra – He’s very traditional, small town Mexican man!
- When I was a child our teacher told the class to go home and ask our grandparents about WWII. I did. They had no idea what I was talking about and but instead told me all about la Revolución de los Cristeros. (thus my idea of teaching him of things he's never been exposed to)
- Not sure if he reads, if not then I’ll read to him, but must be in Spanish
- His cows are/were his pride and joy. Even mentioning them and his face lights up
- He does like to watch videos that I show him off my phone, so feel free to recommend short films / videos in Spanish (or with no audio/words) to share.

Any and all ideas are welcome, just remember I really can’t take him anywhere so they must be able to be done at home. Really my goal is to make this a weekly thing my grandfather looks forward to and we can talk, learn, laugh together. Thanks for your help!
posted by xicana63 to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Read a book together and then have a book club meeting about it.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:02 PM on December 19, 2012

I would ask him about how an important historical event that took place in his lifetime directly affected him.

I'd also read *Cien anos de soledad* with him.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 7:21 PM on December 19, 2012

Mexican Classic Movie Night! Wikipedia has a list of movies from "The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema" (1936-69). Rent some, invite over any of his old buddies, have a conversation afterwards.
posted by apparently at 7:27 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely keep doing oral history-type interviews with him and your grandmother, as well as collecting things like family recipes and similar. I also really like the classic movie night idea, and the book club could be fun too -- I imagine that IMCPL has a lot of Spanish-language audiobooks. (Also, check into their homebound program, which could provide him with a regular source of reading/listening material, as well as someone to talk to.)

Also, maybe find some way to get him somewhere where he could see or interact with cows? The only thing that comes to mind now is Fair Oaks Farm, but that's a bit far out of Indianapolis for someone with limited mobility. Depending on how he feels about being in a wheelchair in public, though, it might be worth going to the State or County Fair next summer while the cows are there. It also looks like Trader's Point Creamery in Zionsville does tours, but I'm not sure how accessible they are for people with limited mobility.

I'm also not sure where in the Indianapolis area he is, but if he's near a school with many Latino students, it might be worth letting the school know that he'd be willing to be a resource for Spanish-speaking students who need to talk to old people about various historical periods. Obviously his experiences would be different to a lot of the other people that kids would be talking to, but it would give him someone to tell stories to.
posted by naturalog at 7:38 PM on December 19, 2012

You might also try tastings: if he loves chocolate, try comparing chocolates from different parts of the world. If you can get out locally, maybe try all of the different vanilla ice creams in town to find the best.
posted by apparently at 7:39 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since he is a cattle rancher, ask him to teach you how to read brands (yes that scarred mark on the beefstock hides intended to convey ownership) and all about branding.
I bet you will learn so much more about him through this activity.
Also ask him to tell you about his favorite horse(s). And dogs, possibly.
Just a start; and since you want to surprise him:
Take him to a state fair; be hand-holding or nearly the whole time. Make sure he tries some weird and delish foodie things.
Ask him to tell you a story about the things that made a big impression on him before he was 10 years old.
Get him to tell you about boy-hood, every-day life, when he was 10, 12, 14.
Ask him for advice about a thing in your life today.
posted by bebrave! at 7:42 PM on December 19, 2012

Could you videotape him telling you about the things he loves and remembers and is most interested in?

What about having family members submit videos about why they love him and their favorite memory of him, and then you could put it all together like a video love letter?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:54 PM on December 19, 2012

Call the Indiana Ag Extension office to ID farms he might visit. Set him up as a special guest at an FFA meeting; he can answer the kids' questions.
posted by carmicha at 8:11 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he can ride in the car you can certainly find a rodeo or horse show that will let you park ringside or come ferry him via golfcart to a ringside seat so he can watch. FFA or 4H would totally do this too. Look for recognized events (quarter horse association, FFA) to make sure they're well run.
posted by fshgrl at 8:54 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I once collected a bunch of old postcards and photographs from the towns where my grandmother grew up. She was shocked and overjoyed to see the old zocalos, buildings, street scenes etc. They were the catalyst for some fantastic conversations that I never could have initiated on my own. Set up a bunch of saved searches on eBay. Do the same with regional music from various points of his life.
posted by barnone at 9:36 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can do a twofer cows/phone videos by looking up cows on youtube and playing one or two a visit.

"Dancing Cows?" to get you started.

On the sweets, try an international grocery or ethnic restaurant for different sweets/desserts.
posted by stray thoughts at 11:08 PM on December 19, 2012

Tazo Chocolate... lots of different flavors too.
Book with nice photographs of all different breeds of cows... and let you tell him about it (my great-uncle was a dairy man). (My grandfather often initiated this type of thing with whatever he was into... woodworking tools, dogs, etc...)
If he was a farmer/rancher he probably knows a lot about the weather. ?
While you sit and talk with him, sew/embroider a traditional garment for yourself. Get his imput - ask him what you should make, what designs to use, etc... use it to segway into asking about what his wife wore when she was young, etc. My great-aunt used to get a real kick out of laughing at my mom's quilting skills, but it meant A LOT to her to pass it on.
I haven't tried the recipes, but My Abuela's Table is a really sweet book of recipes + drawings + stories + old family photos. Maybe make something similar with him? Ask what foods he misses, and try to figure out how to make it? (You will fail, and he will laugh at you, and that's OK. We eventually learned how to make passable cornbread for my great uncle; I made salad once and he said the arugula tasted like old car tires...)
I've worked on several small organic farms that used golf carts to get around... this would be a great field trip option if you can manage it! (I used the ATTRA website)
posted by jrobin276 at 12:59 AM on December 20, 2012

You could try growing some plants that are more common to Mexico but less common here, like sapote, chayote or epazote plants. I'm not a gardener, so I don't know if they'll grow where you are but worth checking out. You could always try to find fruit like sapotes that he would enjoy.

As someone with farming experience, he could "direct you" and you could do all the labor.

You could either ask him about or research some of the big music hits of his younger days and then track down some records to listen to together.

You could use Google Street view and Google Earth to look at places that he might remember and show him the differences.

I think what you are doing is very sweet. Hope he enjoys!
posted by dottiechang at 1:37 AM on December 20, 2012

farm blogs? my mom and I both read Chickens in the Road and it's fun to talk about what's going on on what is essentially a hobby farm. One of her cows just had a calf, a cow got stuck in a creek earlier on, stuff like that would probably be really interesting for him, if you read him the posts.

And herbs or small plants/dwarf citrus plants for him to take care of? I imagine things that were useful rather than just ornamental would be better - even if he was telling you how to take care of them for him.
posted by lemniskate at 5:07 AM on December 20, 2012

My grandpa was a farmer, too. One of his favorite things to do in the summer was listen to the baseball game on the radio. Maybe you could find some podcasts of old futbol games that your abuelito might have listened to when they happened. Something he might enjoy between visits with you :)

Check out Interlibrary Loans to see about getting materials from Mexico if need be.

I definitely like the idea of finding a different sweet or dessert to share with him every week. Taste is usually one of the last senses to go, so he can enjoy trying new things with you for a long time to come!
posted by wwartorff at 8:22 AM on December 20, 2012

How about reading him some posts from The Pioneer Woman's blog? Especially the ones written by her husband, because they go pretty deep into the process of running a modern cattle ranch. There will probably be a lot your abuelo can relate to. The postcard thing someone mentioned above is a great idea too. I did that for my Dad one year with postcards of his small Wyoming hometown I'd found on eBay and he loved it.
posted by MsMolly at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2012

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