Everyone quotes their grandmother with giving them some tried and true lessons about life. I am not going to break tradition because my grandmother was an amazing person. I can’t begin to do her life and her wisdom justice in a few thousand-word post on a random website. But this is my attempt to share the woman who changed my life and taught me so much about the world.
My mom’s mother grew up in the depression as one of eight kids to a sharecropper in North Carolina. She picked tobacco, helped kill hogs, and could make anything last twice as long as it was meant to. She was a nurse and all her brothers were military men during the war. My grandfather was a dentist in the army and they traveled because of his station. They settled in a small town in North Carolina where he became the only dentist and they had four kids. When I came along a-ways later as the first grandchild, I quickly established that they would henceforth and forevermore be Doc and Net. (He was the town dentist so a doctor? And her name was Janette which I just couldn’t manage to say) By the time I was in middle school they were retired and had a beach house. They were so involved in our lives growing up. And they made sure to teach us all the lessons they had gathered over so many years of hard living.
It doesn’t matter where you come from.
Net lived in a house with no heat or air, no running water, no electricity. Their family didn’t even own the land that they were farming. Still, she refused to let that define her; her entire family refused to let that define them. They all became professionals, all got degrees, all got jobs and families, and found a way to contribute to society. It wasn’t handed to her for sure, but she could have just looked around and allowed the idea that where you start dictates where you finish to dissuade her from even trying. But it didn’t.
Family is above everything.
Net had seven siblings and knew how when times were tough maybe only one would get that new dress or only one would get a new notebook for the school year. She could have resented her family for that. Instead, she prized her family above all else. Her family is what got her out of that situation. When she got out of high school, she did not have the money to enroll in nursing school. She wrote to one of her brothers who was stationed away in the army and asked for the money. He started sending her his army paycheck to go to school. Her family gave her the chance to have a future different from the life that had been her childhood. Later after she and Doc were married, another brother needed help getting through school and a place to stay, they let him move without a thought. Family was the top priority.
I saw this even in my own life. I have written before about being gay. Southern Christian folks, particularly the older folks, are not generally too friendly toward us. But I was never afraid of my parents throwing me out. They wouldn’t like it, they might not even accept it, but they wouldn’t drop contact with me. I was sure of that. And it was because of Net. Net had told me a long time ago that you don’t let disagreements and petty things come in the way of family. I had watched her live it. She loved her gay son, my gay uncle, as much as anyone loves their child. Once I heard her say that, I knew she had taught my parents that it was ok for them not to agree with my choice as they said, and still love me and have me around the family.
All your accessories must match the primary color of your clothing.
Not only should your pants match your shirt and your shirt match your jacket and your jacket match your socks, but all that should also match your tennis shoes, your purse, your watch, your earrings, and your mask (if you have to wear one). I did not make this rule people, I simply learned it. One color all the way, and a bright one ideally.
Physical pain is irrelevant
Guys like to brag about their pain tolerance, talk about how macho they are for taking hits and still standing. I would bet money Net could’ve shown them all up. I don’t think that woman ever complained unless bones were badly broken. Once while home alone, she had an allergic reaction to medication that made her throat start to close up, instead of calling 911, she just decided to drink lots of water until it went away. She tested if biscuits were done by putting her hand in the oven and sticking her finger in one. She refused to take more than Advil after knee surgery because she didn’t want to get addicted. She would also not tell us she had cortisone shots or outpatient surgery and go get it done herself, and then drive home. She refused to sit still, she refused to get old, she refused to let anything stand in her way. Lord knows we need a little more of that type of attitude.
Love is best sent in an envelope
Cards are to be sent by standard mail for every major holiday, minor holiday, birthday, and two or three random days in between. They should always be cute or funny, include a handwritten letter, and some gum or some cash. They should then be placed in an envelope, addressed, covered in at least five different stickers pertaining to the closest holiday, and mailed at least one week before the day it is meant to arrive. Again I don’t make the rules, but I learned them. Net never missed a birthday, an Easter, a Valentines, or anything in between. I fully intend to keep this tradition and have taken this lesson to heart. I sent my sister a card on Valentines this year for the first time that Net wouldn’t be here to send us one.
You don’t have to be rich to be ready
Net and Doc never acted like they were rich. Even today, I have no idea what they were worth or if they would have been considered wealthy. I know they both came from insanely humble beginnings and worked hard their whole lives. I know they made it a point to prepare for the future, children, retirement, and eventually leaving us. Doc and Net sent their kids to college with no debt (a different time?). They were able to retire and continue their lifestyle. And finally, they were able to make sure that there was no debt left for us when the time came. That is all I want, to be able to provide well for my family, to enjoy my family, and then to leave no burden on my family that stays after me. Think about the future, the future of your family, not just today. Not rich, just well planned.
Everything in moderation, except cake
I have already meantioned that Net could take pain. She was keen on staying fit. She went to the gym at 5 in the morning to do aerobics, did yoga, could probably walk circles around me and lots of other millennials. She rarely kept junk food in the house unless the grandkids were coming and she was super concious of her sugar. But Net made cake. Not just any cake, Net made a special 17 layer chocolate fudge cake. The layers were so thin they would give your new iPhone a complex, so from the outside this cake was no bigger than an ordinary sandwhich cake. But inside it was magic. Net always made one for Christmas, our birthdays, and any special gathering in between. I know the thing took hours to make with all those layers but she never seemed to mind. It was her special thing and she loved doing it for us. For Net, when it came to family, it was always go big, or go home.
There aren’t many people who can make an impact on your life in so many different ways. My grandmother was rare in mine. I’ve only scratched the surface of the amazing person she was. She was right about so much and honestly, I should have listened more. This post is just my small attempt at a tribute and I hope I might make her proud someday.