If we are fortunate there will be someone in our life who provides an example of a life well-lived. For me, that person was Grandma. I grew up next door to my grandparents and spent much of my childhood in their home. I continued to spend a lot of time with Grandma until she died at the age of 94 and her life influences me to this day.
When I think about Grandma several words and concepts come to mind:
I’ve heard the family stories of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. My dad picked cotton as a 5 year old but got to quit early to go make cornbread for the family’s dinner. No indoor plumbing until they moved to California when my dad was twelve. A house with no insulation and milk that would freeze in a bucket on the floor overnight.
They never went hungry but sometimes they ate squirrels Grandma shot, cleaned and fried. Grandpa always worked very hard but sometimes work took him a long way from home.
Even though my grandparents had a comfortable living later on, those early years instilled a natural sort of thrift in Grandma. She never seemed concerned about money during my lifetime but I think she was so used to living on very little that it just never occurred to her to desire more than they had.
Looking back on my childhood growing up next door to my grandparents, I recall a simple, relatively frugal lifestyle. I sincerely doubt Grandma would have used the word “frugal” and I know for a fact she would have told you she had everything she needed. They always had plenty to eat and to feed any of their eleven grandchildren who happened to be hanging around.
I don’t remember ever having soda/pop at their house but Grandma always had a pitcher of her delicious sweet tea available for thirsty kids (or adults!). Saltine crackers were also a mainstay and we were always welcome to them for a little snack.
They built their house themselves. It was simple but adequate for their needs, as well as all of us grandchildren who considered it our second home. Their household furnishings were comfortable and well cared for but not expensive. Grandma never drove and didn’t leave the house very often except for church. Grandpa did the grocery shopping from her weekly list so she rarely shopped for much herself. She used what she had until it wore out and then she replaced it with something similar.
They didn’t eat out very often but once in awhile they might take a couple of us kids for a hamburger. Grandma cooked three meals a day in a small kitchen without a dishwasher as a matter of course. That’s how they grew up and I honestly don’t think they ever seriously considered anything else. I do recall her adult children buying Grandma a portable dishwasher. She thanked them for it and then continued to wash her dishes by hand. It did provide some much needed counter space, though. One of my fond memories is of her pies cooling on top of that portable dishwasher.
The one thing she loved which might seem frivolous were fresh flowers. When we lived in the desert she grew lots of beautiful flowers, including my favorite – lilacs. She always brought me a bouquet from the first blooms each spring. In her later years my mom and I both made a point of bringing her fresh flowers often. I don’t have lilacs but I always brought her some of the first blooms from my daffodils.
As I said, I doubt Grandma would have used the word “frugal” to describe herself but I’m absolutely certain she wouldn’t have called herself “green”. The notion of being environmentally conscious wouldn’t have occurred to her and yet in many ways she was. For instance, while she had a dryer, most of the time she used a clothesline. The dry and windy conditions in the California desert where I spent my childhood were perfect for this and no doubt every bit as fast as a clothes dryer. How well I remember the delicious, line-dried scent of the sheets I slept on when spending the night at my grandparents’ house. And because she didn’t replace sheets until they were paper thin, they were the softest thing imaginable.
Another thing she did which today we might consider eco-friendly was to cover bowls of leftovers with a plate rather than foil or plastic wrap. She learned to keep house before those items were in common use and while she did use them for some things, she continued the practice of using a plate all her life. I have one of her melamine plates and I use it for the very same purpose.
Grandma was a creature of habit. She arose early each morning and went through a similar routine each day. If it was very early, she was outside watering trees, shrubs, and her beautiful rose bushes and lilacs. Mealtimes were regular so we knew when to find her in the kitchen. I don’t know exactly what her housekeeping schedule was – I wish I had thought to ask – although I do know that she cleaned out her refrigerator every Saturday morning. Her house was always clean and orderly so I’m sure she had a regular cleaning routine of some sort.
Ever since I can remember, Grandma had a little handwritten sign on her dresser mirror which said, “Prayer changes things”. As she went about her daily work she was nearly always humming or whistling old hymns and this wasn’t lost on her grandchildren. She used to love to tell the story of me as a toddler walking around singing, “Oh, Jesus, I sure do like you” – my interpretation of “Oh, How I Love Jesus”, one of her favorites.
All of her grandchildren have fond memories of the Bible she kept on the small wastebasket in the bathroom. I remember looking to see where she was reading each time I went in there. Many years later that Bible met with an accident. A little boy she was babysitting wet on it and she had to throw it away. However, I was honored to have been left her “good” Bible upon her death. It’s one of my most prized possessions.
If I had to choose just one word to describe my grandmother I think it would be “content”. She never seemed to want anything more than what she had and was grateful for her blessings. Her life was centered in her home and around her beloved family. Along with her strong faith this seemed to be all she desired from life. While my dreams are bigger in some ways, I am still often reminded that when it comes right down to it, a good life doesn’t require much. Food, shelter, people to love and care for, faith, soft sheets and fresh flowers. That was plenty for Grandma.