My grandmother was not quite five feet tall, always wore Nikes, could out-swear a sailor, and had a heart that loved without end. She was generous beyond description and I don’t think she ever told a lie in her life. She played the accordion and made the world’s best lemon pie. In short, my grandma was amazing.
There was nothing better than listening to my grandma’s stories and she had many. She grew up during the Great Depression which shaped her entire life. She once told me about a woman who slapped her across the face when she was a girl because she thought she had used an extra towel to dry her hands. She also told me about the hungry, homeless people who would walk by her house and how her parents always gave them something to eat. As a result, she never let anything go to waste and never let anyone she knew go without.
As a kid, she was responsible and hardworking, caring for her seven younger brothers and sisters while her parents worked. But she had a wild side too. My favorite story of her’s was the time she and a friend ditched school to hang out with two guys who had motorcycles. She said she found out later that one of the guys was a police officer. She would laugh and tell me, “Well, at least we never got caught!”
During WWII, she went to work in a factory that manufactured airplane parts. She wore pants when it was scandalous for a woman to do so and it drove her father crazy. She outlasted the hazing of the men in the factory and earned everyone’s respect with her quick wit and her tireless work ethic.
Her greatest passion: music. She played the piano beautifully without ever having a single lesson. All she had to do was hear a song and she could walk right over to the piano and play it. She even loved my music when I was a kid; we’d go for a ride in her car and she would blast Van Halen and drive way too fast; it was great. No doubt my love of music comes from my grandma; I love everything from Glenn Miller to the Eagles and it all reminds me of her.
But all of this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of who she was and who she still is to me today. She was made of different stuff than the woman of today; she came from a generation of women that didn’t complain. My grandma knew more heartache early in her life than most people experience in a lifetime, but you never knew it to look at her. She was strength personified, petite in stature but delicate never. Rather than dwell on sadness, she thrived when she was needed and lived for helping others–family and strangers alike.
She donated her time, her money, and anything else that was ever needed because she truly believed in helping others. She never let anyone know who she was helping or to what extent because she valued dignity–her own and that of others. It was a simple thing for her: someone needs help, so you help. She never wanted to be thanked, it’s just how she lived her life.
My grandma taught me so much about life: how to speak my mind and hold my ground even when I’m scared, how to put others first, and how to laugh even when it hurts. And that is what I call strength.