The World According to Grandma

by Britta on 8 May 2009

in Travels with Grandma

When you’re a kid, you just don’t think of your Grandma as quirky or amusing, but in the six months that I’ve spent here, I’ve learned that’s just what she is. Sh has sat next to me and imparted her wisdom, but I think it’s her habits and mannerisms that have given me insight into her attitudes and worldview than her vignettes of farm life when she was a kid, or her descriptions of Seattle during the war years, or her talk of her Norwegian relatives and family back in the old country. Though I find those stories to be fascinating, I think that some of the more poignant wisdom has come through her actions, particularly the habits that govern her current lifestyle. It’s interesting that I’ve probably learned more about Grandma as a person in the last six months than I have in my 28 previous years of knowing her.

So here they are, six pearls of wisdom from Grandma and her quirks:

1. Always pull your pants up. All the way up.
My grandparents were never the type to pull their pants up to their chests. Or so I thought. Perhaps they just hid it well–now that I’m dressing Grandma, I realize that she pulls her pants up as high as they’ll go. It makes me laugh every time; apparently there’s truth behind the cliches. And who am I to tell her to do it differently? She’s not out to impress anyone. In her defense, in the old pictures I’ve seen, it appears that when Grandma was younger, she wore her pants and skirts above her belly button. Maybe she’s just reverting to the rules she learned when she was dressing at the height of fashion. Or maybe it’s just more comfortable. Either way, whether it’s comfort or ingrained fashion sense, I think there’s an important lesson here: It’s not about what everyone else thinks; how you feel is more important than how it looks.

2. Always start with your right foot.
We’ve got a routine for getting dressed, Grandma and I, and when putting on pants or socks or anything else that must go over the feet, Grandma always starts with her right foot. It doesn’t matter if I’m holding out the left shoe or the left pant leg. She’s got her routine and she sticks to it. Quirky, yes, but also telling. Without her routines, I think she’d feel less autonomous and more like an invalid. For me, constant change is almost paramount, and routines are akin to getting stuck somewhere, but I can see that for Grandma, in her current state, and probably for most of us at many points in our lives, establishing a routine is an important way to stay grounded and feeling like a normal human being.

3. Always use the blankets in the same order.
Along the same lines as the routine lesson, this one takes it a step further. The order of the blankets must always be correct. I’ve come to realize that Grandma is very particular, stubborn even, about certain things, and the order of the blankets as she lies on the couch is one of them. Annoying as I found it when I first arrived here–it didn’t matter to me, why did she care about it so much?–I can see now that there’s a certain wisdom in it. The thinnest blanket must go on the bottom, followed by the afghan and then the quilt. While it’s probably more telling of Grandma’s quirks than some larger worldview, I think a lesson can still be extrapolated: Start with the smallest and move to the largest. Likewise, in life, it’s easiest to start with the small things and move toward the larger things. They build on each other, and the small things must be accomplished before the larger things can be tackled.

4. Always announce when you’re finished.
Grandma doesn’t eat as much as she used to, and I’ve learned to give her about half of my portion when serving her meals. Even so, sometimes she still can’t get it all down, and when she can’t, she lets me know “I can’t eat any more!” It works for both of us: I know she’s finished even though there’s still food on her plate, and she doesn’t feel like she has to stuff herself just to please me by finishing. Likewise, in dinner as in life, it’s important to know when you’re at capacity and just can’t fit anymore in. Like many people, I sometimes get too involved, or involved in too many things, and it’s important to let people know that I can’t eat anymore. I’m stuffed.

5. Always be positive.
The actual words don’t matter, but the sentiment behind them does. Grandma always compliments my cooking if she likes it. She has exactly two phrases to do it: “Very good” and “Real good.” It can be a gourmet French dinner or an exotic Thai curry, or it can be a hot dog or Panda Express. As a writer, it pains me to hear the same words used to describe incredibly different things, and their lack of actual description hurts even more. But, I’ve been hearing them alternately for six months, and realize that to Grandma, it’s not important what she says, but that she says it. If she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t say that, but offers suggestions to make it better: “Heat it more” or “Add more broth” or “Throw in some cheese.” Likewise, in life, it’s important to praise things that are worthy of it, but if it’s not praise-worthy, offer a way to make it so. Constructive criticism should be constructive, not critical.

6. Always enjoy the little things.
Lately Grandma has developed obsessions for hot dogs, root beer and Reese’s peanut butter cups. At first I was wary to serve them to her so often–hot dogs are not exactly health food–but I’ve relented. Hot dogs and root beer and Reese’s make her happy, and if that’s all it takes, my job turns out to be pretty easy. Grandma gave up hot dogs for Lent, and I’ve never seen her so excited for a meal as she was for lunch the Monday after Easter. I took a cell phone picture of her eating the hot dog and sent it out to the family. Life should be enjoyed, and it’s the little things that help you get there.

Did you like this? Share it:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Grandma June 20, 2009 at 6:59 pm

I approve! GMA

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: