Grandmothers’ whispers bring wisdom over time
By Brenda-Lee Duarte
A garden of Love grows in a Grandmother’s heart. — Author Unknown
I never really knew either one of my grandfathers; both passed away at early ages. However, when it comes to grandmothers, I had the best of both worlds. My maternal grandmother was the epitome of southern gentility and my paternal grandmother was the very definition of strength and determination. They taught me the best lessons of both worlds. Both were married only once. Even though their husbands passed away at early ages, they never remarried and focused on giving their all to their families.
My maternal grandmother, Mary Elizabeth, was a tiny woman not even five feet tall, but she was a force of her own. She was a prim and proper genteel southern lady, but when she was determined to accomplish a task she would not rest until it was done. She could stomp her size four foot and charm you in the process. She was a member of the Junior Civitan and the local garden club. She had household help and knew how to appreciate the finer things in life. She also had a strength and independence that was always present, but blossomed to the fullest when my grandfather passed away at the age of 53. Her life changed drastically after his death, but her children were all grown and she taught the whole family many valuable lessons in perseverance, healing and rebuilding. She learned to live in a different way but never lost sight of the true southern lady she was. She taught me to sew, cook, how “to lunch,” and the virtue of southern grace. She taught me many essential values such as patience, kindness, generosity and introspection. As a child, I spent many weeks with her in the summers listening to her stories and wiling away the long days of an idyllic time.
My paternal grandmother, Georgia, was hardworking and determined. She mastered the art of “calling a spade a spade,” while being loved by all. She worked hard from an early age, cooking and cleaning among any number of chores. After a tragedy left her family short on boys to work the farm, the expectation was that the girls would pick up the slack. This expectation would lay the groundwork for a lifetime of exceptional work ethic and family accomplishment. She married fairly young, was widowed while still raising children, went to work to provide for her family, retired to spend time with her grandchildren, and lived a long exceptional life. The most important things to her were family and her church community. The lessons from her came at a later time in my life and from a very different perspective. She also taught me the basics of cooking and other household chores but things in her life were driven from another perspective. Her lessons included acceptance, tolerance, benevolence and an appreciation for nature and God’s creations.
When I look at the world today, I find myself drawing upon their voices I hear whispering to me on a daily basis. Neither of my grandmothers had education beyond the high school level, but the knowledge they shared and the stories they told were an education far more valuable. Their views of the world came from something much more real and they had much to teach. As I reached adulthood I realized that every time I sat down with them, I was transported to a different time and place, a time when our most prized possession was simply time spent with family. At different times in their lives each learned the simple values of making do with what they needed and appreciating what they had. Neither of these amazing women believed in living beyond their means; whether as Mary with her household help or Georgia working the farm to help her family. They did not accumulate a lot of debt and were not users of credit cards or bank loans; they paid for purchases as they made them. They both enjoyed times when things were good, however each learned through adversity to be creative in problem solving by focusing on the big picture.
While both are gone now, I still hear whispers of their voices and the lessons that I learned from them every day. Mary lived well while raising her family and managed to rebuild her life after tragedy with perseverance and determination. Georgia grew up working hard, but learned the lessons she needed to raise and support her family after the early death of her husband. Both accomplished these life changing circumstances through determination and drive. I use these lessons not only to live my own life, but to guide the many children, parents, adults and families I have counseled over the years. I think of my grandmothers often with love, respect, and appreciation while I draw on the strength they gave me and taught me to navigate the path of my own journey. Try to listen to the whispers of wisdom from the previous generations in your own family. And remember “Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever” (author unknown).
Brenda-Lee Duarte, executive director at LifeLine Counseling Center, 294 Gamble Ave., Maryville, 981-7400, is a licensed professional counselor and therapist. She and Megan Rapien, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, will contribute columns on mental health issues the first Sunday of each month in the Sunday Life section.