My grandmother would be 100 this year if she were still alive. I consider myself fortunate that she was an active presence in my life. She got to meet my children and the older ones have fond memories of her.
My grandmother only had an elementary school education. She may not have been the smartest person, but she knew a few things about life and she passed some of these ideas on to me. She truly lived life, without fear and seemingly without regrets.
Grandma used to nag me to wear a hat, but I rarely did. You have to cover your head, she stressed to me. A hat’s primary purpose is to keep your head warm, but she told me that the hat did more than that, it kept the heat in your body. Science backs up that fact.
Grandma’s theme song was, “You’re Nobody ‘til Somebody Loves You.” She lived the Golden Rule unlike anyone else I have ever known. Love others. Period. She had choice words about people from time to time, but she forgave easily, and she was generous with hugs and kisses.
New people in her life were often taken aback by her in-your-face ways, but it didn’t take long to be captivated by this woman. She was obviously a grandma, but acted so un-grandma-like. She drank and swore and sometimes said inappropriate things, but she knew how to make you feel loved and special.
She was unapologetically herself. I am certain she was hurt if people didn’t like her, but it didn’t change how she lived. This may be what drew people to her, her genuine love of life and her willingness to share it with others.
She had no filter. She was generous with both praise and criticism. “You’re an Asshole!” was a favorite line of hers, and resulted in T-shirts, which sold at the kitchen she ran at a local bar. Not only did people love this, there were some people who never heard those words from her who almost seemed hurt.
She didn’t whine about hardships, despite her hard life. She grew up during the Great Depression, the oldest of five. She knew what it was to live without. This affected her throughout life, but did not diminish her spirit.
After marrying, her life was good for a while. The family moved, and then she became a single mom of three in a time when most women didn’t work. She found jobs, and though they didn’t have much, they managed. I never knew her to dwell on those times, or on what they didn’t have. Her concerns were for others, who had even less.
She held a variety of jobs throughout her life: cleaning lady, clerk, meat packer, nightclub singer, short-order cook, and professional organizer to name a few. She never shied away from hard work, but also demonstrated that what you do does not define you as a person. She worked hard for most of her life until her later years when she decided to work only occasionally.
Grandma worked hard, but she also made sure to take time to play. She loved going to the movies and the boardwalk. She loved to sing and dance. She was willing to try anything, especially if it was requested by one of her grandchildren.
She went on amusement park rides and exaggerated their dizzying effect on her. She loved to spend time with people and hosted frequent parties. She had a juke box in her basement and taught me how to dance the Alley Cat, the Bunny Hop, and the Cha-cha.
She worried about those less fortunate, and throughout her life gave to those in need, even if she had little herself. No one went hungry when Grandma was around and no one spent a holiday alone, which meant that we often had an odd assortment of “new friends” with us for the holidays.
Some would say that she took chances welcoming some people into her home or that she was being taken advantage of. Perhaps this was true, but these were people who were going through a tough time and soaked up the love and energy she emanated. Her faith in them may have been just what they needed to be better people.
Grandma showed me the value of networking, and she was a pro. She seemed to know everyone. No matter where we went, or how far we traveled, she would inevitably see someone who looked familiar and go talk to them. Perhaps she knew them, or perhaps some people were just being polite, but they always took the time to chat with her.
In my mind I see her smiling, ready to break into a full-fledged laugh. Laughter came easily to her, and she was willing to laugh at herself. Grandma never took herself too seriously. She was willing to get down on the floor and play with her great-grandchildren, even into her 70s. She made them giggle, and would end up laughing herself. Her laugh was contagious.
She is no longer with us, but her spirit lives on in her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and all those whose lives she touched. I catch glimpses of her sometimes – watching my oldest child dance, listening to my two middle children play in a jazz band, or in the voice of my youngest singing with emotion.
I see her energy, her passion, her love, and her smile in my children. I feel her warmth and love when I cook certain dishes, when I hear certain music, and even in her Art Deco lady’s-head-lipstick-holder sitting on a shelf in my bathroom. I miss her. I am so thankful that she was my grandma, who taught me so much about living a good life.