Life Lessons from Granny
A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination ~ Nelson Mandela
My grandmother who recently passed away lived 90 years, that’s a really long time. She saw a lot in that long life and learned a lot. She wasn’t one to pontificate to me how I should live my life very often but I learned a lot from talking, watching and listening to her. So tonight some of the accumulated wisdom from a 90-year-old hillbilly with a big heart and a sharp tongue.
Always do the hardest thing first – This was one of the few things that is a direct quote from my Granny. When I was in elementary school I was sitting at her dinning room table doing my homework. I had a lot to do and was wondering out loud where I should start, she smiled and told me, “always do the hardest thing first, that way when you’re tired you’ve got the easy stuff left.” It was a mere passing moment, not meant to be any grand passage of wisdom I’m sure, but I remember these words almost daily and they have served me very well in my life.
Enjoy yourself – Absolutely by observation over my lifetime it became clear that my Granny believed it was important to have fun. She loved watching nature, the animals off the deck at my mom and aunt’s house especially when she got older. She would talk to me for hours about their habits and personalities. She also loved to gamble and was probably the luckiest gambler I ever met, but particular in a casino on a slot machine. When she turned 80 we had a celebration in Las Vegas, a bunch of us convened at Mandalay Bay for a couple of days of nice meals and of course, gambling. As usual my grandmother was winning and her luck was utterly transferable. She gave my cousin Karen a $20 bill and it was returned to her sometime later and Karen was up at least a $100. Me, I’m a craps player and while she was playing slots I went to the craps table. The table was doing well for a time but then began to slow down. I covered my chips and wandered through the casino to find Granny winning of course on a slot machine. “Hey there Michael,” she greeted me and I told her I needed a hug for luck. I got one, went back to the table and it fired right back up. As the table started to slow I left again and came back, and again the table fired back up. One guy said to me, “I don’t know what you do when you leave but keep it up.” I told him about Granny and about 20 minutes later the table slowed down again. The gentleman looked over and said excuse me, “will you please go hug your Granny again,” I did, we continued to win and that day on that craps table I paid for my airfare, my mother’s, mine and grandmother’s hotel rooms for the trip.
Learn to laugh at yourself – I was very fortunate over my life to spend a lot of time just sitting and talking with my Granny. She had a great sense of humor but some of her biggest laughing fits were over silly things she’d done herself. It showed me how important it is to have a sense of humor about yourself. Lord knows we all do enough stupid things in our lives, we may as well get a good laugh out of them.
Reward people who do things for you – One of the things that my grandmother did for me at a young age was trust me with responsibility. It may not seem like much but to a little kid, I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old, allowing me to go to Sammy Lipschutz store to buy the daily paper on my own was a huge deal. I had to cross two streets! The effect of that trust is part of what built the confidence I have in myself today, the idea that someone trusted you to do something that seemed really important was huge. Of course, that’s a lesson in itself but the real lesson I took from it was more focused on the M&M’s involved. You see I got a quarter to buy the paper with, and a quarter to buy a bag of M&M’s, my reward for helping out. I’ve tried to always remember the base lesson in this during my life, trust people to do things for you and make sure you reward them when they do.
Family is important but they’re a pain in the ass – Granny and I have had many conversations about this over the years. Our family is not an easy one, few families are these days. She would spend her fair amount of time bitching about them, maybe none more than her sister Gwen. But as much as my grandmother bitched about her, when the shit hit the fan she was there for her, both near and at the end of her life. So what I learned from her is that family is important, but they are definitely a pain in the ass.
Small kindnesses matter – I’m 51 years old and have lived all over the United States and traveled all over the world. I’m not always an easy guy to keep up with, I once changed addresses 11 times in a three-year period, the word nomad gets thrown around a lot. But in those 51 years I don’t think my grandmother missed more than a handful of holidays where I did not get a card. Not just birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Halloween etc…. It was a small gesture but one that always brought a smile to my face and made my day a bit happier. My Granny also had an uncanny ability, she claimed her aunt or mother I forget which one, was clairvoyant and it may have been so. When I was a graduate student in Tennessee I was seriously broke. The university paid us terribly and I was living mostly off of student loans. There were some months when I would be a week from a pay check and be completely broke. Not that I was in danger of starving or anything but there was absolutely nothing to spare. It seemed like every single time I found myself at that point, a card and a $5 or $10 bill would show up in the mail with a note that said, go get a burger or a beer on your Granny. And I did. I learned from her that it’s important to do those small acts of kindness, I try really hard to do similar things for my nieces and nephews especially.
Focus on people when they talk to you – Maybe this has to do with her age but frankly I don’t think so. Granny did something that few people do these days, when you talked to her, you always had her full attention. She was someone who would shut off the TV or turn down the radio. She always focused and paid close attention to what you were saying. Where I really noticed this was with little kids, little kids loved talking to her because she absolutely focused and really listened to them. Not just as most adults endure their stories and words, but focused on them like what they said was valuable and important. That has a powerful impact on people and it’s something that I don’t always do a great job with but try to remember to always do. I will say the one place I have absolutely taken this advice to heart is with small children. And if you don’t, you should, not just because it’s important for them, but because little kids tell the wildest damn stories. If you don’t believe me, come ask my little 3-year-old niece about Woo Woo and her motor boat.
Take care of those less fortunate than you – My grandmother believed in taking care of those who had seen misfortune. I saw it when I was a kid in her kindness to folks in our hometown and watched it throughout my life as she did her best to love and help my cousin who suffered a brain trauma. This came from her I believe, because she grew up in a home where they had little or nothing most of the time. This attitude is at the core of gratitude and kindness that we talk about here so often and is the backbone of being a happy person.
Protect those who can’t protect themselves – Now my Granny grew up a hillbilly, she was born in 1925, so the attitude in the anecdote I’m going to relate may seem outdated, but the larger lesson stands, protect those who can’t protect themselves. As I mentioned in my last piece, my grandmother was one of the custodians at my junior high school. One day I got in trouble for getting into a fight on the playground. My grandmother was tight with the principal and got me off the hook but not without first asking me what happened. In this particular instance another kid had made some derogatory remarks about my father. I don’t remember what, but likely the kind of stupid my dad can beat up your dad nonsense, whatever it was it got under my skin, so I punched him and we went to scrapping. After telling my grandmother what happened my Granny got very serious and told me the following: “Don’t you worry about your father, he can fight his own battles. But if anyone ever says anything about your sister, you mother or your Granny, beat their ass.” I told you, she was a hillbilly with a big heart and a sharp tongue and God help you should you ever get on the wrong side of a hillbilly because it will not end in a happy day my friends ~ Rev Kane