The Common Sense of my Grandmother


I have found myself thinking lately of the house my grandparents lived in when I was young, She always said it was a happy house… though it was the house itself that created the happiness, but the truth of it is……It was my grandmother. Today I wanted to share some of the wisdom I have gained from her stories, and the house she built.
Of course wisdom would be too fancy a word for my grandmother…. “Common sense” is what she would have called it.
So here it is…..The six common senses……..The house my grandma built…
When out in the world……….
During my grandmother’s childhood she suffered a great deal of accidents, but one story stands out now. She was eight or nine, and playing some sort of game with her sister and some other kids when her sister accidentally dropped a heavy metal sprinkler from a second story on to her head, cracking it open. In the ensuing panic she was swept up by her grandmother and rushed to the local pharmacy, which is where emergencies such as these were handled in those days. The pharmacist decided she needed stitches. With no pain killer, he began sewing her up while she was surrounded by the many staring eyes of neighbors. She didn’t shed a single tear. This was the part she loved to share the most.
The first common sense, PERSEVERE.…. Life is full of mishaps and unexpected obstacles, but deep within all of us there exists a stronger will to persevere.
In order to put my father and his sister through Catholic schooling, my grandmother took a job at the school helping to serve lunch. Often times the head lunch lady would make soft pretzels and sell them as an extra treat to the students. One of my grandmother’s tasks was to collect the money and distribute the pretzels. As the kids lined up she noticed one child with large sad eyes hanging back behind the line. She knew the child didn’t have the money for the pretzel, but could see he wanted to be like everyone else. So she called him over, pretended to take his money, and handed him a pretzel…..and continued to do this each time they were served. She always said when telling this story….”What was a few pennies lost?”
The second common sense, BE COMPASSIONATE….Why else do we live but to raise up the dignity of those who have “lost” something essential in life?
When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, she was understandably overwhelmed, but she managed to find the humor in her situation. After a series of tests and two operations to put a port in her chest, she was finally ready for her first round of chemo. As she was walking out of the doctor’s office, she turned to him and said, “Well now it is time for me to walk with the zombies.” Up until that point she had found Dr. Lemon to be a somewhat reserved person…..she was always proud of the fact that she had made him laugh out loud with that comment.
The third common sense, LEAVE THEM LAUGHING…….Humor exists everywhere in life, especially during our hardships. Find it.
On the fence line………
One sunny afternoon, my grandmother was planting flowers along her fence when a group of school children walked by. One small boy was in the center being taunted by the children around him. She stopped planting her flowers and confronted the children, asking why they were threatening the boy. She then told the victim to come sit on her stairs and told the other kids to go home. When they refused she even threatened to call the police. This sent the children on their way. Each time after she told this story she would always say, “What was I supposed to do — just keep planting my flowers while this boy was going to be hurt?”
The fourth common sense: DEFEND THOSE WHO CAN’T DEFEND THEMSELVES…… The smallest actions make the biggest difference.
These final two stories come from my early memories and my last conversation with her.
Within the Walls…….
When I was young we spent a great deal of time at my grandparent’s house. There was and still is a sense of timelessness to those visits. Quite simply it was because there was abundance…. food, laughter, love. One time when my cousins were in town we were all playing whatever games children play, languidly inventing our day, when my cousin decided to try and fold a paper airplane. He couldn’t quite remember how so he went to ask his mother and grandma. What evolved from this question was an epic paper airplane fight of legendary status. Suddenly we were in the living room trying to bomb out my grandmother and aunt in the dining room, desperately folding more ammunition and even switching sides, while my younger cousin roamed around wrapped up in a paper brick Christmas decoration to protect himself. The details of this battle were rehashed often in the years to come, but mostly I remember my grandmother out of breath and laughing.
The fifth common sense, CULTIVATE A PLACE FOR SPONTANEOUS JOY……In these increasingly hectic times it is these moments that will pull us through.
At the Heart of it All……
Finally, in the last few weeks my grandmother spent most of her time in bed in a kind of waking dream. Most of the time she spoke of things I couldn’t see. On this particular evening I was sitting on the side of her bed simply listening to her thoughts, answering as best I could when I felt she was asking me a question, but completely aware that her reality was different than mine now. Then she grabbed my arm and said, “You’ve lost something.” Without quite catching what she was getting at, I answered, “No, no… I am fine…I haven’t lost anything.” And just as the words left my mouth I realized what she meant; she knew I had been feeling the loss of her. Then, with a weight of truth I have never felt in these words before, almost as if she was standing on cliff and with far away vision revealing the reason for existence, she said, “Love is forever, and I will always be with you.”
And this final wisdom bears repeating…..LOVE IS FOREVER AND WE ARE NOT ALONE.