Kent Madrian is carefully maneuvering his six-foot-six-inch body and an old Kirby vacuum cleaner over grandma’s best rug. Grandma is keeping a watchful eye on her furniture.
Bump. Kent runs into the easy chair and starts to go around it.
“You’ve got to move the chair,” Grandma says. “To get underneath.”
“I know, Grandma.”
After a few more turns around the floor Kent hits the switch and the machine’s rumble dies. “What do you want for dinner, Grandma?” Kent asks.
In case you haven’t noticed, there is something unusual about this scene—grandparents usually take care of grandchildren, not the other way around. But in this house, things have changed for a while. For four months Kent has been living with his grandparents, helping them out when they couldn’t take care of themselves.
When Kent was four, his father died. His grandparents, Ruby and Delos, lived in Nevada at the time. They sold their home and moved into the same Salt Lake neighborhood as their daughter, Marie, to help raise Kent and his two sisters. Even at that age, Kent realized what a great sacrifice the move was for them.
As the years passed he noticed other little things about them. The fact that Grandpa never missed church, that Grandma would help anyone in need. He loved them almost as much as his own mother. “They were like parents, not grandparents,” he says.
“Grandad taught me to ride a bike, to play basketball. He ordained me a priest. I’ve never seen him do anything bad or say anything bad about anyone. I want to be like him.”
Then in January Kent’s grandma hurt her arm and wasn’t able to do normal tasks around her house. Grandpa had been confined to a wheelchair and was also unable to help.
Though preparing to leave on a mission to Italy in April, Kent moved in. “My grandparents had always been there for me, so I saw it as an opportunity to pay a small part back,” he says.
Kent moved in with the idea he would be cleaning, cooking, shopping—and he did all those things. But ask him about peeling potatoes or making breakfast and he’ll change the subject. He’d rather tell you what Grandma and Grandpa taught him.
“Grandma got me ready for my mission in a lot of ways,” he says. “She taught me how to iron and cook, but more importantly she helped me spiritually. I had a lot of time to read in the scriptures and I talked to her about what I was reading.
“Grandma taught me a lot of the gospel is learning to think about the other guy,” says Kent. “And that’s how you find yourself, by serving others.”
So, he says he came away a better person by just being around Ruby and Delos. Then again, he was a pretty decent guy to start. Let Grandma Ruby give you an example. “At first, Kent slept in a sleeping bag at the foot of Grandpa’s bed. Kent wanted to be there if Delos needed to get up in the night. After a few nights I made Kent sleep in another room because his back was hurting.”
Or Ruby will tell you how Delos enjoyed watching baseball games on television. Delos and Ruby couldn’t afford cable service so Kent dipped into his college savings to pay for a sports channel so Delos could watch Cincinnati Reds’ games.
But as close as the three got in those months, Kent faced the same challenges most young people do in relating to older people. When asked if he had to listen to the same story more than once, Kent flashed a gee-whiz grin and nodded. “I’d hear the same story like six times over. I’d just be nice and listen.”
That, however, was a small price to pay. Kent now believes he knows his grandparents.
“I have always loved them,” says Kent, “but I guess I never really understood them. I think I do now. They are just like all of us. They have the same needs. The only difference is they have a lifetime of experiences to tell you about. If you get to know them, they can be some of the best friends you have.”
Kent has now left on his mission, but the memories he has of those last months with his grandparents cannot be erased. “It was hard leaving when you know you’re needed,” he says. “But I’m needed in Italy too. They understand that.”