Debra Swersky
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Underlying Emphasis

Love me a good interview question. One of my favorites: If you could have lunch with anyone (alive or dead) who would it be? The insight that you get into the person through their response is fascinating. I heard this question a couple of months ago and have been silently justifying my response ever since.

First of all, I’m pretty proud of where I come from and who I come from. (Shocker.) But with the passing of my paternal grandfather, maternal grandmother, and grandparents-in-law, I’ve taken more of an interest in my relationships with my surviving grandparents. 

The quick background: My parents grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. They met there, got married there, and then moved to the US to escape the apartheid and pursue “the American Dream.” My maternal grandparents eventually followed and settled in Philadelphia, however, my paternal grandparents stayed. My sisters and I visited with my maternal grandparents much more than my paternal grandparents. But, we were fortunate enough to visit Cape Town once a year during our school vacations. 

My paternal grandfather was a “rags to riches” story and my maternal grandfather was/is a business person and perpetual tech enthusiast, problem solver, and unclassified inventor (or so I think). My grandmothers though: creatives. They enjoyed cooking, entertaining, painting, jewelry, knitting, sewing, fashion, etc. My maternal grandmother used to meticulously prepare for and host family parties (oftentimes for upwards of 20-people) and my paternal grandmother used to sew her own dresses for all of the family weddings. Both, in their heydays, were featured in South African “home and garden” type magazines for their creative accomplishments. 

Growing up I took their life stories for granted and didn’t make much of an effort to get to know them. They had trouble understanding “my American accent,” couldn’t hear me when I spoke on the phone, and rarely responded to my letters… I was hardly justified in my frustrations, but frustrated nonetheless. In all of this, I wish I had realized the value of having grandparents well ahead of realizing that one day I wouldn’t have grandparents. 

Looking at my family, from parents, to aunts and uncles, to cousins, and sisters, I’m fascinated by our similarities and differences and actively try to identify from which side of the family my interests come from. That said, I’d like to have lunch with my great paternal grandfather to better understand the side of the family that I have struggled to get to know and understand.

Debra Swersky