My 99 year old grandmother died last week. She wasn’t your stereotypical kind of grandma. She painted, but she didn’t paint still life or scenery, she painted vivid abstract compositions based on nebulae and quantum physics. She was fierce in her hunt for knowledge and her passion for science and art. She engaged with socialist ideas well before they became hipster.
At her funeral, we all shared our memories of Grandma and some consistent themes came up. Her huge sense of fairness and the importance of equality, the love of knowledge, the loyalty to and importance of family. We talked about how all of these had been passed down through the generations and her 23 descendants.
Today I’m sharing some of the many lessons my Grandma taught me.
Childhood Trauma can Shape you Forever
Grandma lived through the Great Depression. Born in 1920, she was just a child when the Depression hit, her father died, and her family had to leave the big house she loved and move cities to live with extended family. She didn’t live with her mother, but with a cousin whose wife treated her very badly. She had to leave school at 14 and help her family. These early experiences shaped my grandmother deeply, some in sad ways (her fear of being thought ignorant which drove her fierce acquisition of learning in later years) and some in more quirky ones. Grandma could not abide waste. She was known to slip bacon from the motel breakfast into her purse ‘for later’ and couldn’t throw away anything that might end up being useful later.
I didn’t understand a lot of that until I was older. When I heard more of the stories of her life I had a much greater understanding of how she came to be the way she was. It’s so important to remember that people are so often the products of their upbringing and their earliest experiences, and to be kind.
Not long before she died, Grandma told me about when she was 10, and the woman she stayed with took the roses Grandma had gathered to give to her mother and put them in her own living room. Grandma was as furious as a sad little 10yo deeply missing their mother could be. She told me she went to every corner of that room and stuck her finger in the wallpaper and ripped it down. I nearly cheered.
A story I remember hearing when I was younger and I really hope isn’t apocryphal because I tell it to all my students 😬, is that during the mass protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour, Grandma hit a policeman on the head with her handbag when he was rough with protestors. My grandmother was never one to bow to authority unless she deemed it moral and worth listening to. Even then I doubt she would bow.Continue reading “Things my Grandmother Taught me”