When I was growing up, I was closer to my grandparents than anybody else in the world. I spent a lot of my summers at their home and learned many lessons about life and love. I have tried to remember all that they taught me, and I hope I have imparted some of their knowledge and beliefs to my own children. The things I learned from them are timeless, and with the world they way it is today, I think everyone could benefit from their wisdom. Here are the top things they taught me, ranked lowest to highest.
- Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it’s not meant to hold onto forever. Granddad didn’t believe in banks. Perhaps it was because he was born in 1916 and certainly witnessed the fear and despair brought on by the Great Depression. He always felt that his money was best kept in the wall safe in his house. But that didn’t mean that it stayed there like a stockpile that shouldn’t be touched. If Gram wanted a new pair of shoes (and that was quite often, really, QUITE often), Granddad never hesitated to take her shopping. I remember one time when the three of us were shopping together. Granddad asked, “What are those things on your feet?” I looked down and smiled. “My favorite shoes,” I replied, very proud of the stained, well-worn canvas shoes. “No granddaughter of mine should have shoes that look like that. You’re getting a brand new pair.” I don’t know why that story has always stuck out in my mind, but I do know that we went straight to the shoe department at Peebles, and I walked out with a new pair of shoes. I’m pretty sure Gram left with three new pairs, and Granddad left with a lighter wallet and a smile on his face.
- The early bird gets the worm. When I stayed at my grandparents’ house, one of my favorite things to do was to go crabbing with Granddad. The first book I ever wrote was about a day spent crabbing and was a tribute to the man I loved. He rose every morning before the sun came up and went to work. In the summer, that was on the water. In the spring and fall, it was in his fields. He worked early, when the day was cool, and rested in the afternoon when it was too hot to be outside. He knew the value of starting every day before dawn. Grandma was no different. I remember on the days I didn’t get up and go crabbing, Grandma would sneak into my bedroom early every morning to collect the clothes I had worn the day before. They were often washed and on the line before I was even out of bed. Then the chore was done for the day. We called grandma “The Laundry Lady” because of her insistence that all clothes should be washed, dried, and put away first thing every morning. It’s one thing I have yet to master, but I have always tried. And as a writer, you will always find me doing my best work early in the morning. I think it’s because Gram is whispering in my ear that “time’s a wasting” and I’d better get moving and get something done.
- Family dinners are essential. Whether it was just for the five of us and my grandparents or the entire Morgan clan, my grandmother loved serving up a good, old-fashioned family dinner. Every Sunday, that was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and a bounty of vegetables, bread, and desserts. There was always enough food for one more person at the table, or two or three. The door was always open, and everyone who dined with us was family. I was raised on the belief that families always eat together, and in a world in which most families rarely see each other for a single meal during the week, that’s such an important lesson to remember. I thank my grandmother for recognizing this and my own mother for instilling it in all of us. Though it can be hard at times, eating dinner together as a family is my favorite part of the day, and, like Gram, there’s always room for one more at the table, or two or three.
- It’s important to make everyone feel special. Every man was Granddad’s buddy, and every woman was his sweetheart. It didn’t matter if he had known them his entire life, or if they were serving him coffee at a restaurant where he had never eaten. He learned their names, asked about their families, gave out hugs like candy, and always had a smile for everyone he came across. I don’t believe anyone ever left their presence without feeling like the most special person on earth. My grandparents lived by the words in Matthew 25:30, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” I believe that Grandma and Granddad saw Jesus in each person they met, and they made sure that everyone felt it.
- Friends are friends, whatever their race, religion, or creed. My grandparents were raised during a time when everything was determined by the color of your skin, where you went to church, and who your relatives were. There were lines that were not crossed. But I remember a young, black man who used to live and work near my grandparents. He could often be found helping out around my great-aunt’s store. Others may have looked the other way when they saw him coming, but not Granddad. They were friends, and that counted for something. Growing up in a neighborhood and attending a school in a white suburban area, I was profoundly affected by my grandfather’s friendship with this man. They remained friends until the day Granddad died, and I’m sure they’re both together now, drinking Coca-Cola and eating Hershey bars in Heaven.
- Family matters. There was nothing that my grandparents wouldn’t do for their family. If I wanted to spend time with them, all I had to do was call, and they were in the car and on the way. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but they lived an hour away, and they had very busy lives even in “retirement” (truth be told, I don’t think they knew what that word meant). But they were always there no matter what. My grandmother was definitely the mother hen in the family. She looked after her sisters and sisters-in-law like they were her children. Her own mother suffered a stroke early in life, and not a day went by that Gram wasn’t at her mother’s house helping to feed, bathe, and care for her. And no amount of complaining would allow us to stay home when she went over there. Family is family, and we were to all remember that and pitch in where needed.
- God should be the forefront of everything. I’ve heard that when my mother was a child, my grandfather rarely went to church. My grandmother would load up their four children and take them to church every week without fail, but Granddad usually stayed home. When I was a child, however, I never remember there being a time that Granddad didn’t go with us to Mass. I recall that he was always a few steps ahead of everyone else, finishing his prayers several beats before the rest of the congregation. I never understood why, and it always perplexed me. But for no reason that I can explain, I find myself doing the same thing. It always makes me feel like he is there praying the words right along with me. Granddad might have been slow to being a regular church-goer, but he was always faithful to God. The St Clement’s Island cross, marking the site of the first Mass in the New World, was built and erected by his own hands. He also made the Stations of the Cross that line the cemetery where he and Gram are now laid to rest. It wasn’t unusual to find a nun or a priest at the dinner table, nor was it unusual for either of my grandparents to say “Get in the car, we’re taking [fill in the blank] to the church.” Sometimes it was laundry or dinner, other times it was an apple pie or a pail of fresh-picked cherries. Grandma prayed every morning, and I still marvel at her ability to put everything else aside, every single day, in order to spend time with the Lord. They lived out Joshua 24:15 throughout their lives, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And what better lesson could they have instilled in any of us?
Here is the thing that really stood out to me when I was thinking about all of this. My grandparents taught us all of these lessons and never said a word out loud about any of them. Everything we learned came from observation. They lived out each and every day according to the teachings of St. Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I only pray that I always remember what they taught me and that I am worthy of their legacy.
On St. Clements Island in front of the cross that Granddad built.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.
Crabbing With Granddad (2013)
A Place to Call Home (2014)
Picture Me (2015)