Thursday, May 29, 2014

love is blind. but grandma isn't.

my grandma rocked.

she was a teacher. a hawaiian beach babe. a navy wife. she raised up four children against a landscape that changed every two years, kept an immaculate house, had dinner on the table every night, AND EVEN HEATED UP THE PLATES BEFORE SERVING IT. she sewed my aunts' prom dresses and sewed magical toys and busy books and crafted creative games that kept me busy for ages. she could play candyland and old maid for hours on end. she sang silly songs. she taught me to swim. she helped me catch bugs and dig up worms. we built forts, had picnics, swam in the pool, waded in the river, swung for endless afternoons, took walks, explored, and played and played and played.

my grandma practically raised me when i was little, while my parents worked and my mom finished school. i remember the feeling of her house in the mornings, crisp and cool with misty rays of sunshine spilling between the leaves and dappling the porch with light. blue jays squawking. humming birds sipping from the feeder. pancakes or waffles on the table - with blueberry syrup - my favorite. if my grandfather wasn't around, i was allowed to watch sesame street and mr. rogers and sometimes even reading rainbow. she was my mentor and my friend. she never made me feel as though i were an inconvenience or a chore. now that i have small children of my own, i appreciate that ten times more.

recently i was talking with my aunt about potty training the kids, lamenting that my mom wasn't around to trade war stories. i was joking that when my i asked my dad he said, huh, i don't really remember doing that with you girls, and i thought in my head at the time, well that's probably because mom did it! then my aunt mentioned that she had sent my cousin to grandma's for a week and my cousin came back totally potty trained. when my aunt asked how, grandma replied, "she was just ready." it shall forever remain a mystery. i realized that there is a 79% chance that grandma did the same for me! here i was giving my dad a hard time for not remembering/participating, while it's highly unlikely my mom did either!

this got me thinking about what a special person my grandma was. and how special she made everyone around her feel, in turn. she was classy. she was funny. she was selfless. she was smart and crafty and creative and a great cook, though she never, ever gave herself credit. ("i'm such a dum-dum." "maybe i'd look better if i just put a bag over my head." her standard refrain when serving dinner was "wellllll, this is going to be pretty terrible. i'm not even sure it's edible.") but other than her self deprecating shtick about how bad her cooking was and how awful her hair looked, etc., she never complained. in her later years, however, she didn't shy away from "telling it like it is."

when i came back home after my freshman year of college, i knew i had gained the freshman 15 (or, let's be honest, freshman 50). but my friends loved me, and we all got fat simultaneously, so i had convinced myself that it wasn't that bad. my girlfriends and i actually had this conversation in a dressing room at brass plum at nordstrom: "what is wrong with these pants? why are they so small?" "i know! they must have changed their sizes. there's no way i could go from a 7 to 13." "seriously. maybe it's because they're juniors sizes? whatever. that's dumb. these are broken. let's go somewhere else." for nine months i'd heard: "gained weight? no, of course not! you look great! don't worry about it!" but when i toted my tubby self back to grandma's house, i wasn't three feet in the door before she said, "you got fat." okayyyyyy. love is blind. but grandma isn't. ;) (i almost said "but grandma ain't," but then i had flashes of this book of my grandma's that we read almost daily, and i thought better of it. if i remember correctly, bad things happen to people who say "ain't.")

grandma was one of my most favorite people in the world. so much so that i named my daughter after her, though for this, grandma is probably rolling in her grave. she was not a huge fan of her name. sorry, grams ;) since i started ruminating on this lovely lady, i came up with a list of life lessons i learned over the years. the list is not exhaustive - i'm sure i could add to it every day. but it's a start.

everything i need to know, i learned from my grandma

be sweet (especially to your sister, because one day, she may be all you have.)
smile. ("smile and the world smiles with you, frown and you frown alone.")
stand up straight "so you don't turn into a shrunken hunchback."
penmanship and typing skills are important, despite all this "newfangled technology."
bill clinton is a scallywag.
read books.
write letters.
send thank you notes.
mind your manners.
learn the rules of grammar, and employ them.
don't leave the house "looking like a bum."
empire waists "make you look a little pregnant."
only mobsters and hooligans wear rings on their pinky fingers.
don't be afraid to get dirty, or play with bugs.
a little bit of chocolate isn't going to spoil your dinner.
chew your food ten times.
the only way to eat angel food cake is with powdered sugar icing, and sprinkles.
a chocolate chip cookie can solve most of the world's problems.
why does corn syrup get such a bad rap? a spoonful of caro's cures any and all stomach ailments!
a little snack before bed can help you sleep.
never pass up a lucky penny.

a tin of old buttons provides children with almost as much entertainment as one of those "i-thingies."
"outen the lights."
wear sunscreen "so you don't end up looking like one of those rotten apple dolls." also? skin cancer.
always carry kleenex (tucked conveniently up your sleeve!)

you're never too old for sparkly nail polish.
grams spent too much time curling her hair, and i spent/spend too much time straightening mine. if we could just be happy with what we have, we'd save a lot of time and energy!
set low expectation for your culinary skills and people will be happily surprised.
sewing and knitting are lost arts.
let your husband think he's the boss.

but know that when your family needs someone to lean on, it will be you.
you catch more flies with honey, but sometimes, you just gotta swat 'em. (grandma was pretty unassuming, and mostly bit her tongue, but wooo-eee, if she felt like something was really worth standing up for, watch out! her generally agreeable and conciliatory nature gave it that much more impact. if you pissed grandma off, you really did something wrong.)
animals make the best friends.
(human) friendships work better when you take the expectations and competition out of it. 
try to see the best in people.
make friends at jury duty and the DMV, it helps pass the time.
take trips to paradise with your girlfriends when you're an octogenarian, it'll keep you young.
plant a garden. fruit and veggies taste better, flowers smell sweeter, when you grow them yourself.
veggies also taste better when dipped in mayonnaise. 
don't play any of that "hip hop bee bop" music at your wedding.
steer clear of those "gol-darn hippies" in the bay area.
if you don't have anything nice to say, mutter it under your breath.

and the corollary - the older you get, the less you have to bite your tongue.
remember the best family stories... and just make up the parts you forget ;)

today would have been my grandma's 93rd birthday. (she shared her birthday with some of my favorites, including my stepdad, a good college friend, and little miss MJ. if you're born on may 29th, you're good people in my book ;)) she always said she wanted to be a bird, soaring through the ocean air, and that's how i think of her now. 

"my soul is in the sky." - william shakespeare, a midsummer night's dream

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