I’ve been with my grandmother this week. She’s going to be 94 next month. She, my mother, my daughter and I are all January babies — it’s a family tradition. I also learned that the name “Louise” is also a family thing. Louise is my middle name, from my mother. I didn’t know Mom was named for her mother’s mother, until today.
This morning, when I woke up, I noticed that we finally had the first snow of the season. It wasn’t a big snow, but it was enough to “stick” on the walkway and the steps to her house in the country. Snow quietly settled down between the blades of grass in her front yard, and a few largish flakes meandered down from the blue-gray morning sky.
Together, Mamaw and I stood by the kitchen window, looking out watching the flakes scoot sideways first one way, then the opposite, on the way to the ground. She sipped her coffee and I sipped my herbal tea. She was lost in thought and I watched her watch the snow.
I was thinking about how very short life is. How we only see a few dozen winters in this life. How quickly the seasons change. How unappreciative I’ve been of the 50 I’ve been blessed to see already. I know I’ve seen more than half of the ones I’ll ever see. I think about how fifty isn’t a huge number. I think that I probably told the kids to “stop that” at least fifty times in a single week when they were growing up. Fifty seems like a lot… until you ARE fifty.
Mamaw is silent. I am silent. We watch the snow and think our private thoughts.
“I had good parents,” she said, breaking the silence. He eyes stay focused far beyond the window, somewhere across the Eastern Kentucky landscape. “When I was young you couldn’t hardly keep a house warm. Most people had fireplaces and most all the heat went up the chimney. You stayed cold. I remember my daddy used to wrap me up in his arms by the fire to keep me warm and mamma would heat a blanket for me. Daddy would carry me into bed at night and lay me on that warm blanket and mamma would cover me up to keep me warm.”
I smiled, “Did the snow make you think of that?”
“No,” she said, “I think of them often. They was good parents. You don’t appreciate parents when you are little. It’s only when you get older that you look back and think about all they did for you that they didn’t have to. I had good parents.”
She went on to tell me more about her parents over breakfast this morning. She told me how it was her father that usually got all the kids ready in the mornings, while her mother cooked breakfast. She told me that her mother was a tiny, short woman, a good “head” shorter than herself. (That would put my great grandmother at about 4’8″ since my petite grandmother is only 5’3″ and I’ve been a “head” taller than her since I was about 14 and reached the height of 5’7″).
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Joy and Happiness and the difference in the two. I’ve been thinking about my own life and the direction it should take now. And, I’ve recently read a lot about “gratitude” and its impact on the self-reported quality of life (yes, there have been quite a few studies on this topic.)
But, all my reading and thinking and research and seeking aside, it occurs to me that my grandmother embodies it. My guide is standing before me. She’s always been a pleasant, seemingly happy woman and she’s always been grateful. This morning, she took the time to dive back nearly 90 years into her past to be grateful for actions long past, kindnesses of people long gone, who made her life sweeter.
I know Mamaw has worked hard her whole life to raise her own nine children, I know times were tough for her and that I’ll never know how tough. I know that right now, she’s facing an uncertain future and is probably not going to be able to remain in her home this winter, on the farm where she has lived for the past 71 years. I know that brings her a great deal of sadness and pain.
But all that aside, this morning she was grateful for her parents. She was grateful for her childhood. And she practiced this gratitude before she had breakfast or finished her morning coffee.
If I were to aspire to embody the personality of anyone I know, it would be my grandmother. She’s patient and kind, she’s loyal and true, she’s happy and pleasant in all situations and she always looks for the best in people. I think my first real step toward becoming a better person, like my grandmother, may be to practice gratitude first thing in the morning.
I started today.