A Few Life Lessons From My Grandma Glenna
My Grandma Glenna, my paternal grandmother, is one of my favorite people. Over the years she and I have spent innumerable hours discussing writing, watching “House Hunters International,” playing card games, and putting together puzzles. However infrequently, we’ve recommended books and movies to each other. She introduced me to Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s novel The Shadow of the Wind last year, and this novel engaged me from start to finish. Over the years she has shared poetry—hers and others—with me. I can remember dining with her at Chili’s while still in high school and the first thing she did—possibly even before we ordered our food—was show me a poem in a magazine which didn’t make sense to her. Quickly I read this poem, and agreed it didn’t say much of anything. More recently I shared the Robert Bly poem “I Have Daughters and I Have Sons” with her, and she was delighted. I don’t love poetry as much as she does, yet when I read poetry I find compelling, it’s hard not to think “I must show Grandma.”
Not surprisingly, I’ve learned numerous life lessons from her. This listing is inevitably incomplete; in other words, I rest assured there are lessons I am presently unable to think of. Furthermore, she has influenced my life so greatly it’s sometimes difficult to know where her opinions end and mine begin.
She has taught me the importance of not taking yourself too seriously. Her ability to laugh at herself is refreshing, and I think it is one reason she can maintain a positive attitude. Recently she mentioned forgetting to sign a check and how aghast she was when this check was returned. This story ended with a line I’ve heard from her many times: “If I couldn’t laugh at myself, I might cry.” I’m still learning how to laugh at myself when needed, and the levity this provides has proven invaluable during stressful, embarrassing moments. I’ve found my ability to be amused by my mistakes makes other people more relaxed around me when things don’t go as they had hoped.
People are important to my Grandma Glenna. She is, almost without fail, a welcoming, generous individual. Five years ago I used to invite friends over to Grandma Glenna’s place so we could talk, play games, and eat snacks. Several of my friends who came to these gatherings have told me how much they like my Grandma. She is likable partly because she genuinely likes people. Her ability to value people impresses me, and I hope to become more like her in this way.
Grandma Glenna also believes people are complicated. In fact, she compares each person to a “universe.” I find this idea reassuring; after all, I think it’s too easy to think we can learn everything about a person if we use the right personality test or ask enough questions. Her belief that everyone is a universe inspires me to try to not assume why someone is behaving a certain way. While certain things may be determined with enough inquiry—such as discovering that a friend has changed his or her diet based on newly discovered allergies—other parts of what make someone them are hidden far below the surface. Grandma Glenna’s belief that people are complex makes her compassionate because she realizes she can’t possibly know all the reasons behind someone’s actions.
The power of optimism is another thing she’s taught me. She is almost eternally hopeful. This hopefulness extends from her life into the lives of others. Even when I may have a pessimistic moment—or month—she believes my future is bright. While her optimism is not unbounded, it is a vibrant force, a part of her I appreciate even if I do not automatically share it.
My Grandma Glenna is a grateful person. She’s lived without running water and indoor plumbing before, and for this reason she openly appreciates these modern luxuries. Despite our unruly tendencies, she is immeasurably thankful for her large family. Her family continues to grow, and she is delighted by every new addition.
One thing she is very grateful for is her cat Sassy. My Grandma Glenna is a cat person. She’s even told me she has thought about what it would be like to have a tail to swish around. Sassy often prowls around Grandma’s place with the aura of ownership I’ve observed in other cats. Even if she doesn’t automatically welcome me when I visit, she adores Grandma. She’ll sit on her lap so long Grandma will need to gentle push her off so she can stand up to get a drink of water. More than once Grandma has informed me how smart she thinks Sassy is. While I am generally a dog person, I’ve come to appreciate cats more because of Grandma’s influence.
Honest and relational, Grandma Glenna doesn’t pretend she’s reached anything resembling perfection. She’s a work in progress, and, by recognizing and (mostly) accepting this fact, she is more accepting of the imperfections of others. Rarely have I felt judged by her, and this is truly miraculous since I’m far from perfect. Her ability to recognize the ways in which she has and hasn’t grown encourages me on those days when I am frustrated by my struggles to be patient, kind, and generous with praise.
Speaking of praise, Grandma Glenna believes in offering praise. She doesn’t do so glibly, however, and this makes the praise she offers more valuable. She’s a keen observer of people; consequently, her compliments are often accurate and worthwhile. More recently I’ve learned how important it is to offer appropriate and specific praise, and I don’t know if I would have learned this lesson without her influence.
Finally, she has taught me to value all people: young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, white and black, and so forth. She doesn’t believe in discriminating against people based on obvious external factors such as the color of their skin or the way they speak. She believes people are valuable regardless what they have accomplished or how they look. If this lesson could be put on a bumper sticker, it would read: People are valuable. No exceptions.
Grandma Glenna will turn 87 in September. I’ve been blessed to have had so many years with her, and I hope to have several more. After all, she won last time we played pinochle, and I would love to beat her the next time we play. And, of course, learn a few more life lessons.