Recently, some of my aunts have been sharing old pictures of my mother’s family on Facebook. Interested in history – especially my own – I checked out the pictures mostly in search of a little girl resembling my mother. If it weren’t for an aunt on my father’s side commenting how much I resemble my grandmother, I might have missed it. Taking a closer look at my Grandma, I see a woman in a short-sleeved, dark coloured dress. She’s standing in front of an old car, the kind of old car you don’t often see anymore. She has her new baby wrapped in her arms, proudly pointing the baby’s teeny newborn face toward the camera. She has the biggest grin — and it’s there, in her face, where I see myself. My favourite part of the resemblance is that I am at the very same stage of life as my Grandma in that picture. My first baby fills my arms just as hers is in this snapshot of time.
Seeing this photo and the resemblance got me thinking about generations. When I think of my Grandma, I see her in that role and age as I have always known her. But she experienced an entire lifetime before I came along. This year she celebrated 90 years and in that time she has seem so many world events and changes. Social customs and norms have evolved since she was my age. Technology is unrecognizable. She would never have conceived of journalling a blog on the Internet using multiple devices – laptop, DSLR, iPhone – and grappling with SEO and feed verification while trying to raise her seven children.
Despite all of these changes, it is incredible to think of the continuity of it all. That through the generations, we’re both just young women holding and loving the children we brought into this world. When you break life down to the simple matters, it’s remarkable how much my Grandmother and I are the same after all.
Be grateful for what you have
Grandma tells me how very much Joel and I have as a young couple just starting out. She says that when she was first married and living in her first house they furnished the house as they were able. While I acknowledge that Joel and I are older starting out than my grandparents were, the message still stands. We are so lucky to have what we have at this stage in our life – or any other. And anyway, my grandmother tells me, life isn’t about accumulating things to impress people. Living well is not about the things we have, but rather who we’re sharing it with.
Millennials have been fortunate in that they have never endured hardships like that faced by our grandparents, who might have lived through the Great Depression or World War II. Recently I listened to a conversation amongst Joel’s aunts and uncles about the kinds of meals they enjoyed (or on those nights when liver was served, maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word) growing up. Meat wasn’t as readily available – or affordable – when they were children. That’s a reality I never experienced. My generation, a product of the society in which they live, seems to expect to skip hardship as we start out building our lives. We seem to expect to enjoy the same large houses and lifestyle our parents could offer us when we moved out. While there isn’t necessarily something wrong with this desire to do well and provide for our children, Grandma’s comments give me pause and remind me that what I have – especially in terms of material things – is more than enough.
Cherish your husband
My Pops died unexpectedly not long after my parents were wed. My grandmother has lived her life for almost forty years without her husband beside her. She advises me to cherish my husband and the time we have together each day. Grandma has said that she misses her husband all of the time, but that she has fond memories she can think of. Just as her grandparents advised her, my grandmother tells me to never go to bed angry with my partner. You never know how long you have together, she warns.
After telling me of a few deaths my grandmother has suffered lately, I asked her whether loss takes on a new meaning over time when so many loved ones have gone before her. Grandma acknowledged that loss hurts always, but that over the years and in the living of so much of it, one becomes better at living through the loss. I would imagine that compared with losing one’s partner, other forms of loss can’t touch the depth of such an absence in her life.
Choose good materials
There’s beauty in simple, well-made products. Clearly not buying into the dietary trends and synthetic materials that have come and gone over the decades, Grandma has said that she prefers to choose good materials to use in her day to day. This is especially true when thinking of containers for food and water where she chooses porcelain or glass rather than plastic. Also, there is nothing wrong with tap water, she says. Something need not be complicated or disposable to be of good use.
Hold on to the meaningful and let go of the rest
After a lifetime of accumulating material possessions, my grandmother has developed a discerning taste for the items she chooses to surround herself with. She says to select items of sentimental value for daily use. These may be simple items, such as the mug my sister and I gave to Grandma when we graduated from university as teachers after her example. This mug she keeps on her stovetop in which she places spoons that stir her food. Using an item like her mug in that way ensures that her family is called to mind with every meal she makes.
Value takes on a different meaning than is typically thought of in today’s money-driven society. A thing is not considered valuable because of what it is worth. Rather, my grandmother recommends surrounding yourself with items that call to mind happy memories or loved ones. Then again, a rich life is not defined by things at all, but rather the intangible moments and those you’ve been blessed to share life with.
Finally, before we said our goodbyes, my grandmother admitted that she wasn’t fond of change. Considering the enormous change she bore witness to during her 90 years, it’s not surprising that she might feel overwhelmed with it all. Which is maybe why she holds onto such enduring ways of living.