Tuesday, April 10, 2018
My grandmother taught second grade for many, many years--long enough that the grandparents of her current students frequently showed up to remind her she had also been their teacher. My mother was the quintessential stay home mom so I was unfamiliar with a female role model who went to work every day. We had the summer to get to know each other and then in the fall, it all changed.
Dad was home in the afternoons, still grieving and mostly hibernating, while Grandmother went off to work each day. I vaguely remember that my brothers did not adjust well at all that year to all the changes. I was too busy dealing with my own problems. Fortunately, I discovered the bookmobile and books became my salvation.
But, I did learn important lessons in that year after my mother died. I learned to be independent. My mother was a model mother, cooking, cleaning, doing everything and expecting nothing from us kids. It was pretty normal child-rearing for the 50s. The thing was--we didn't know how to do anything. We never learned.
On the day my mother died, my father was caught up in trying to find a place to unload our possessions so he could use our pickup truck to drive back to Arizona for my mother's funeral. I vividly remember him handing me a can opener, a can of tuna, and a loaf of bread and telling me to feed my brothers (who were all younger than me). I had no idea how to use a can opener. I had no idea what to do with the tuna. I had no basic survival skills.
Well, that summer I learned. My grandmother was not one to do all the work while idle hands were available. Her teaching method was basically, learn by doing. And there was a lot to learn. It had never occurred to me to wonder how food arrived at the table. Oh, I knew my mother did 'stuff' out in the kitchen and then 'poof', food was ready. My grandmother involved me--willy-nilly--in the whole messy process.
I learned how to wash dishes. I took out the trash. I made my bed. And helped with the laundry. All normal things to learn at my age, but let me tell you, I wasn't impressed. I wanted to go back to the old model where I played or daydreamed or read all day and I wasn't happy when I realized that life was over. Grandmother was firm about her expectations. Everyone works. Everyone. Even my little brothers learned to pick up after themselves.
The other thing I learned was personal responsibility for my behavior. I remember pounding into the house, all hot and bothered about something a friend did, just bursting to share my story. Grandmother listened. Then she told me to sit at the table and she pointed out several problems with my story. She showed me the event wasn't one sided. And when I wanted to argue, she shut it down. "If you can't say something good about your friend, then keep it to yourself. That way you won't have to apologize later for hard words you wish you hadn't said."
Unbeknownst, that was a lesson I was already dealing with. The day before my mother died, I was angry with her and shouted out, "I wish you were dead!" Months later, Grandmother's words reinforced the painful lesson.
Grandmother is long gone now. All my grandparents are gone. They were a powerful influence in my life. And I'm so thankful I was privileged to know them.