10 Life Lessons I Learned From Observing My Grandmother
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a living and breathing image must exceed millions, at least in my estimation. Watching and observing my paternal grandmother go about her daily life as I went about mine (college student, free rent, you get the picture) was one way I got to know her more. Over time, I gleaned a few life lessons just by noting some of her ways which I share here.
Let me further preface this by adding that I conversed with my grandmother plenty of times. She can definitely talk and can especially relate with astounding clarity (and length) events of yesteryear like it was last night's dinner. There were, at the same time, plenty of moments, those in-between ones if you will, where in the course of each of my busy days I quietly witnessed Grandma living her life and found that to be revealing.
Much of what I list below are concepts that are already familiar to us all. I found that living with my grandmother offered me additional insight and perspective that reaffirmed and deepened my understanding of practical wisdom. That said, I was learning all along.
1. Frugality has its place.
Grandma would page through circulars, stay abreast of sales, and stock the fridge and pantry with her finds. Meals were never extravagant but tasty, satisfying and relatively healthy. Lights were kept off and energy saved. Old tools or items were re-purposed or reused. Higher-ticket items were limited to special purchases (see #3).
2. Give what you can for there's always someone in need.
Spools of colorful yarn frequently draped the couch where Grandma sat and knitted while her favorite TV shows played one after the other. Lovely baby layettes were produced (even with her arthritic hands) and given to charity. Homegrown fruits and vegetables were often set aside to share with visitors or other family members.
3. Quality over quantity.
As much as frugality plays a clear role in Grandma's life, she pays more for quality where she feels it counts. When her television broke after years of daily use, she set out to purchase one that would fit the same bill. I recall returning home one day to find a fairly large, nice-looking, higher-quality TV in the family room. Grandma did her shopping.
4. Structure and routine builds character.
Every morning Grandma would start her day off with breakfast, a crossword puzzle and a short walk with the dog. Lunch was preceded by a series of her favorite TV shows. Afternoons were typically errands and housework scheduled around a nap. After dinner, more TV and some reading or knitting closed the day. This routine was her daily norm. While I initially found it curious, I soon observed how it allowed Grandma to live her life as independently as she did. Having that kind of personal structure seemed to give her a certain flow to deal with the ins and outs of life at 90 years of age. I suspected that this was a patterned approach years in the making and assisted her through the years with supporting a husband and raising a large family before.
5. Exercise your extremities, including your head.
Aside from walking the dog, cleaning the house and maintaining the backyard garden, Grandma made sure her mind was engaged by reading stacks of books, conquering crossword puzzles, watching shows like Jeopardy and even using email and bill pay on the computer. Grandma showed that staying proactive about one's health is a daily endeavor.
6. Eat less, talk more.
Grandma typically prepared just enough for meals and never ate too much. Instead, I noted her using mealtimes to catch up with whoever was around or eating with her. Whether this was related to years of frugality, a disposition for talking, or a combination of both, observing this taught me that eating is as personal as it is social. I learned that relationships are important to Grandma and that breaking bread with others can be just as nourishing as what you fork or spoon into your own mouth. Oh, and eating less has been scientifically shown to increase longevity (Grandma is a case in point perhaps).
7. Cleanliness counts.
Cleaning seemed to be one of Grandma's fortes but after watching her for awhile I came to the conclusion it was solid repetition at work. While my own mother was exemplary at keeping a tidy home, observing Grandma maintain her own home reaffirmed to me the merits of cleanliness. Forgoing the obvious, I learned how much it plays a part in uplifting an environment's ambience and I soon found myself more grateful about coming home to a clean, welcoming home. Being in college and seeing other examples of dorm rooms or student apartments made the distinction clearer.
8. Take time for yourself.
Even at the ripe age of 90, I'd catch Grandma with pink painted nails and pretty dangling earrings. A glass of red or white wine was also a part of her daily repertoire and it was obvious it wasn't just about the antioxidants. By taking time for herself, Grandma enhanced the quality of her life.
9. Expect the best, do your best.
By her daily routines, and staying active and busy, Grandma taught me that she believed in herself and her abilities and kept moving along with life. Even when age or other factors could severely limit her, Grandma still carried on with life; mowing the lawn and taking the red beamer out to the store didn't seem to phase her much. She made do within the parameters of what she could do and she seemed to be better off for it (she was relatively healthy compared to her peers). It taught me that respecting yourself means you expect the best and you give your very best to get there.
10. Cherish your family.
I never considered my dad's side of the family affectionate; in fact, I kind of felt that they were more stoic and reserved if anything (until the alcohol came out). However, Grandma would greet family members with a warm hug and kiss. As a recipient of such myself, I gradually learned to open up and be more free with expressions of appreciation for fellow family members when we met or gathered. Grandma's behavior reinforced the age-old adage that "blood is thicker than water" and that I best not forget it.