We recently lost the matriarch of our family – my 97 year old grandmother, Frances. While I have some raw feelings about it, I also wanted to take a moment to share some of the lessons I learned from a woman who was part of the ‘Greatest Generation’ . Frances suffered no fools – she lived through a World War, the Great Depression, she raised four Baby Boomers and persevered through near poverty for most of her life; she wasn’t one to complain and she undermined her accomplishments. I want to share a few lessons I learned from her, though I know she would bark at the preciousness of my post.
1. The importance of creating – Frances was always creating something from scratch – for her, it was beautiful quilts or knitted items for her many grandchildren and great grandchildren. We will cherish these items for the rest of our lives and they will always remind us of her loving, well-worn and industrious hands. Growing up in a depression, Frances learned how to sew out of necessity – when her family would need to relocate due to financial hardships, one of the only possessions her mother would bring with them is an old Singer sewing machine. The same machine now sits in our bedroom – I found old needles and thread in the drawer the other day and I left them right where they were – the stories those small items could tell…
While Frances and her generation didn’t know it explicitly, sitting in silence and creating, or doing that busy work that occupies our minds, expresses our creativity, and offers us a sense of accomplishment, has profound effects on our wellbeing. My grandmother’s generation did this work because they had to, but along with their busy hands came meaningful talks about the items with their family and friends. I will always attribute my love for creativity and creation to my grandmother – she taught me how to knit and sew and from that experience came a sense of accomplishment and creativity that forms the foundation of who I am. Again, she would bark at me for giving her any credit towards this.
2. Suffer no fools – Frances children and family will tell you – she suffered no fools. Though standing under 5 feet tall, her presence somehow loomed over most that she encountered. She was a true matriarch and reminds us of the power of a mother and the importance of family. As a member of Frances’ entourage, you knew she had your back and that those who did not serve you in positive ways would need to be cut out of your life, in her mind anyways – she was deeply protective. To her, it was a simple and necessary decision. It reminds us that we are meant to surround ourselves with people we are positive and reciprocal relationships with that lift us up and help us when we fall.
3. Keep it simple – I tend to overthink; I will even overthink a recipe if I let myself. These instances are always when I would give my grandmother a call and say, “those buns you make, how much milk again?” and she would always reply with a ‘so it cover its all, Laura, use your head!” While she said it in an endearing way as only a grandmother could, the message always came across loud and clear – trust your instincts and keep it simple. I have let this small but impactful lesson guide me in other areas of my life as well – it is so important to trust that little voice in our head that tells us something isn’t right in a complex situation. Oftentimes, the answer is more simple than we might expect, and that simple truth can set us free.
4. Spend time immersed in the natural world – my earliest experiences with the outdoors involved my grandmother. It wasn’t some riveting outdoor adventure, it was simply time spent in her garden. Those early life experiences are palpable for me – I remember the smells, touches and feels as I watched her beautiful vegetable garden grow each summer. We would work our way down the small dirt alleys, and I would steal a bean, tomato or strawberry when I should have been weeding. We would sit and shell beans or husk corn afterwards on the porch; again, an experience that feels like yesterday. Perhaps it was quality time spent with my grandmother that has me remembering these experiences so vividly, but I also believe time spent in nature was at play. We know from the research, connection and immersion in the outdoors in important for our health – I will always credit my grandmother for getting me outside as a young girl and teaching me this important lesson.
4. The importance of small traditions – as a matriarch, Frances hosted many dinners. She was an impressive baker, probably much better at baking than cooking. Every time we would break bread as a big family, Grandma would set out random bowls of her vegetables on the table – a little bowl of lettuce (even though salad or hamburgers weren’t on the menu), some random olives or beets. The bowls of produce never quite matched with the main course, and us kids would always giggle at the tradition. But, to this day, I put one little bowl of something strange on my table whenever I have company over.
My point here is to remind us to not forget how our small daily actions and traditions can have big impact on those around us. The bowls of produce on my grandmother’s table symbolized the love that she had for bringing us together to eat as a family – I carry on that silly tradition because of that feeling of belonging I felt around that table, not because the olives go with my roast beef dinner. I hope my daughters will do the same some day.
As I say goodbye to Frances and we collectively continue to say goodbye to the last of the Greatest Generation, I think it is so important to record the lessons they instilled in who we are as people and to pass those along to our next generation. I hope some small part of this resonated and I wish you a restful weekend spent with the people you love most.