My Grandmother taught by example.This beautiful indigenous immigrant from Mexico was one of the strongest and most insightful women I know.
There is Always Enough
No matter how many people showed up at our door, my grandmother created a feast. Homemade tortillas from corn she ground, vegetables and herbs from her small garden and arroz con pollo appeared on the dining table before anyone could refuse.
When my grandfather died at 42 and left her a widow with nine children, she kept food on the table and clothes on everyone’s back. Not a small feat during the Great Depression and World War II. Like many during her time, she made clothes out of flour sacks, and cooked filling meals made from scratch.
She and my aunts made money by ironing and mending military uniforms. She rented out the small house my grandfather had built behind the main house. All seven of her sons served in the military and they each sent her money from their pay. My Grandmother always said that even after my grandfather died, she never feared being without a roof over her head, money, or food. There was always enough.
She and my grandfather immigrated to America because they saw the opportunities. They saved their money and bought their own home and built another one to rent out. Her ability and willingness to take action and control what she could, gave her a sense of peace and happiness.
We’re More Alike than Different
In the 1940’s, our neighborhood included people from Mexico, Poland, and Italy to name a few. Despite the different languages, customs, and cultures, people helped each other. They shared food, information and skills.
By the 1970’s, the neighborhood changed, but the kindness among neighbors stayed the same. Our family was the only Mexican family and the rest of our neighbors were African-American. It wasn’t something we thought about until the KKK dynamited ten empty school busses to protest desegregation.
This was the first time I encountered racism. I didn’t understand why some people didn’t like others because of the color of their skin or the language they spoke. My grandmother called it ignorance. “We all want the same things. Love, understanding and a better life for our children. We’re not all that different from each other.” She said.
Be Kind to Others
If a friend or neighbor needed help – my grandmother was the first to offer. If she wasn’t able to help, she’d call one of my Uncle’s to see if they could. She always put herself in the other person’s shoes.
While other people told us we lived in a “bad” neighborhood, we knew better. Our family lived in the same home for decades, just like many of our neighbors. We helped each other shovel snow, shared food, celebrated births and grieved over deaths.
I was only nine when my grandmother died of a heart attack. Family, friends and neighbors filled the funeral home. For a woman that spoke little English, she left an impression on everyone she met. I learned to treat others with respect, to be kind to everyone – even though the other person might not be kind in return. “You never know what someone else is going through.” she would tell me.
Watching her live her life was a wonderful gift. I still miss her and do my best to pay her love and kindness forward.
What lessons did you learn from your grandparents?