5 Beautiful Lessons In Love I Learned From My Grandparents

A true rainbow connection only strengthens over time.
My grandparents on the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship in the late 1970s.
My grandparents on the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship in the late 1970s.

My grandparents had the kind of love you see on the big screen. Well, more accurately, a Muppets movie on the big screen. It was at times chaotic, always triumphant, and with plenty of strings attached. It's no wonder they were such big fans of those Jim Henson puppets.

They were married for nearly 60 years before my grandmother passed away in 2008. After 26 years, it's safe to say I've learned a lot about unconditional love from the couple I've affectionately called "Nanny and Pa."

Don't let cultural differences be obstacles to love. Embrace them.

My grandparents met in 1948 at a photography studio where my grandmother worked. She was just 19; he was 25. He was a local radio personality, and she was a home economics student at the University of Rhode Island.

"Are you married or engaged?" he casually asked her when they met.

"No," she said cautiously, likely taken aback by his directness.

"Well, let's see if we can do something about that."

Slay, Pa, slay.

But his Orthodox Jewish family was less than thrilled when the pair did do something about it two years later in 1950. My Protestant grandmother wasn't the bride they had originally envisioned for my grandfather. 

That made no difference to the enamored couple, though. 

Religion wasn't the only difference they embraced. My grandmother came from a diehard liberal family. Our family get-togethers always promised long political discussions touting the Clintons and tearing down Republican ideals, all delivered in the thickest of Providence accents.

It wasn't until after my grandmother's death that I realized my conservative grandfather didn't exactly share in his family-in-law's political values. Their contrasting backgrounds didn't weaken the foundation of their relationship, though. Instead, they provided Nanny and Pa with proof that their relationship would bend but never break.

Left: My grandmother modeling a wedding dress in the photography studio where they met in 1948. Right: My grandfather po
Left: My grandmother modeling a wedding dress in the photography studio where they met in 1948. Right: My grandfather poses for his radio personality "glamor shots" in the same studio (1948).

Make time to travel with your loved ones -- and often.

My grandparents spent a lot of time after they retired traveling across the world. I used to listen with deep fascination to my grandparents talk for hours about traveling across the desert in Egypt (apparently, on a camel named Canada Dry), enjoying the finest wine Italy had to offer, road-tripping through Spain, vacationing in Jamaica for months at a time -- the list goes on and on.

I still ask to hear the stories I've heard a hundred times already. I love watching my grandfather relive some of the fondest memories they shared. I can almost see him tasting the aged Chianti in their Tuscan villa or feeling the cool Jamaican breeze against his skin again as he recalls these moments.

These experiences are what my grandfather undoubtedly treasures the most when reflecting on his rich life. No piece of furniture or jewelry could ever match the time they spent exploring and admiring the wonders of the world.

My grandparents' life together in magnets on my grandfather's fridge.
My grandparents' life together in magnets on my grandfather's fridge.

Unconditional love is in the mundane details of life.

It's knowing how your partner likes her slacks ironed.

It's serving food piping hot because your husband loves his food at a temperature some would deem unbearable.

It's washing your wife's car without asking, just because you can't imagine her driving around in anything less than spotless.

It's being able to sit on the beach for hours on end, not saying a word, because you're just happy to be in each other's company. 

"In sickness and in health" is more than filler for wedding vows.

As the years went on, this promise that my grandfather made to my grandmother on their wedding day was put to the test. Complications from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's brought her to an assisted living facility by the age of 77, only a few miles from the house my grandparents shared for 40 years.

My grandfather never missed a chance to iron her slacks or comb her hair or just read the newspaper beside her. He spoke to her and told her he loved her, even long after his wife had become a shadow of the sharp-tongued, quick-witted and fiercely independent woman she once was.

One summer in college, a few years after my grandmother died, I was serving tables when an older couple sat in my section. After a few minutes of friendly conversation, I found out they were from the same town as my grandparents. Up until this point, the conversation had been lighthearted, but when I mentioned my grandparents' names, the woman's face became still and serious.

"I know your grandfather," she said.

I wasn't surprised. My grandparents were figures of local society in the '60s and '70s. Both were well-known in the social scene and town politics.

But it wasn't my grandparents' hometown prominence she recognized.

"My mother was in the same assisted living facility as your grandmother," she explained. "Your grandfather came every day, to every meal, without exception. He took such wonderful care of her. I never saw anything like it."

She was respectful and remorseful all at once. I was caught completely off-guard. To think my grandfather's commitment was as obvious to everyone else as it was to me was a heartwarming revelation.

Even with multiple states in between us, rarely a day goes by when I'm not reminded of just how proud I am to be his granddaughter.

Romance is but a small fraction of the love we have to share with the world.

The love my grandparents shared for each other was but one of the many models of unconditional love they exemplified. It manifested in ways that stretched beyond spousal devotion to a love for their community, country, friends and family.

It takes a certain level of love to spend countless hours with your granddaughter drafting to-scale blueprints of her dream house while '90s Nickelodeon shows echo in the background. (My b, Pa.)

What else besides unconditional love could give my grandmother the ability to listen to a tone-deaf 10-year-old belt out Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" almost every afternoon and not collapse in fits of laughter?

Pa and his great-granddaughter taking a stroll in 2013.
Pa and his great-granddaughter taking a stroll in 2013.

The lessons from my 92-year-old grandfather haven't ceased; they've only gotten richer. Even though I get to teach him life lessons from time to time (for instance, having to gently remind him that aggressively tweeting at local news stations about incorrect grammar is not a nice thing to do), I'm still the one who's usually (and gratefully) on the receiving end.

Among my favorite life lessons: Eat good food. Drink good wine. Take pride in everything you do. Never stop learning. And, most importantly, always shine an apple on your shirt before eating it.

But every time I speak with him, it's a lesson in love that is subtly reinforced: Never settle for anything less than loyalty and devotion in love, whether it be romantically, among family or between close friends. 

My grandparents at my sister's college graduation in 2004.
My grandparents at my sister's college graduation in 2004.

Since my grandfather is a longtime admirer of Missy Piggy, he was the first person I told when she came to our office. I knew he'd be live-streaming the interview on his computer (because that's the kind of cool nonagenarian he is), so I told him to send along a question to ask, should there be a Q&A.

The simplicity of his question was unexpected: He just wanted to know what Miss Piggy sees in Kermit that makes him so special. 

Growing up, I knew my grandparents loved the Muppets, especially Miss Piggy. For this reason, I had always loosely compared my grandparents' relationship to Kermit and Miss Piggy's. Nanny wasn't shy about sharing her opinions, and the pair often had superficial disagreements in conversation. But their love was humble and persistent.

So when he asked the question, I was surprised. The answer seemed obvious: Well, because he's the only frog for her, of course. And because he's the kind of frog who will be there for her through thick and thin. And because he's the nicest, most caring frog you'd ever meet. Didn't Pa already know this from experience?

There isn't another Kermit for Miss Piggy, even if they aren't together today.

And there will never be another Nanny for Pa.

There will, on the other hand, always be the lessons in life and love they've passed down to me, my family and Muppet-loving generations to come.