This Sunday is Grandparents Day, a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of our elders in the lives of our families.
Whether by birth or through adoption, grandparents are treasures deserving of honor and respect. Like all of us, none were perfect, but most were there for us when we needed them most.
The wisdom of our elders is irrefutable. I distinctly remember so many ways my elders, especially my dear Grandma Minnie, influenced me by example.
Here is a baker’s dozen life lessons I learned at Minnie’s kitchen table.
- Love knows no boundary. Keeping close to the people you love and learning to love them without having to love everything they do, is the key to family strength. “You don’t have to be perfect to be loved.”
- An open door is an open heart. Minnie’s kitchen table was a place where others came to eat and be fed spiritually. If a neighbor or their family had a problem, she was there for them. “If I needed them, I’d hope for the same treatment.
- Waste not; want not. Finishing our meals or saving leftovers for another time is one of the most compelling constants for our elders. “Remembering the pain of hunger lasts a lifetime.”
- Charity begins at home. As little as they had, our grandparents always seemed to find a way to help others in need. Minnie had a tin can in which she would drop coins — “a little something for those with less than us.”
- Cleanliness is next to godliness. A clean home is the symbol of how we should conduct our lives in the sight of others. Minnie swept the sidewalk in front of her house almost every day. “When our guests come to our door, they should have a clear and welcoming path.”
- Progress comes in little steps. Expecting too much too soon is unreasonable. “A drop plus a drop fills up the pot” was among Minnie’s favorite phrases. Every day is another opportunity to take positive steps, for family and for community.
- Laughter is the closest distance between two people. It’s a pleasure to enjoy the company of others and to hear a good joke, tell a witty story, and listen to the folk tales of the old country. These are among life’s great gifts. “Frowns make more wrinkles than smiles,” Minnie would say with glee.
- Honest compliments are among our most valued possessions. Giving credit when credit is due and honoring leadership inspires others. “People shouldn’t assume you know about their good works. Tell them they are appreciated.”
- If there’s a problem, try to fix it. Minnie knew that “you’ll sit a long time with your mouth wide open before a roasted chicken will fly in.” Ignoring a problem is neither smart nor sensible.
- Don’t leave politics up to someone else. As an immigrant girl, Minnie felt the sting of discrimination and injustice. She was a suffragist as a young woman, became a naturalized citizen, and voted for the first time in 1920, never missing an election in her life. “Power is not given, it’s won with courage and hard work.
- Words without deeds are empty. Someone who makes a promise and doesn’t keep his word is an emotional thief. “It’s better to keep quiet than make a meaningless offer.”
- Patience pays dividends. Whether it was baking her famous cinnamon buns or preparing a full holiday dinner for 16, Minnie knew that the process required patience and persistence. “I like to cook because when I see the faces of satisfied eaters, I’m happy.”
- Resting is a reward for working hard. Minnie earned her rest, and made the time to relax, listen to music, observe nature or read for pleasure. “Too much of anything isn’t good, including work.”
I’m not alone in receiving the gift from my elders’ life treasury. Family history is a living legacy. It’s not only the story of who our elders were, but it defines in many ways who we are.
Over the centuries, our nation has been populated by those whose life’s story is worth telling. Whether they came for freedom or by force in slavery, the values our grandparents brought with them are heirlooms which our children deserve to inherit.
Their sacrifices fueled our freedoms. Those who survived became advocates for causes and people who needed them. Their life’s mission was to make the world a bit better than the one they experienced.
Jack Levine, founder of the 4Generations Institute, is a family policy advocate based in Tallahassee who frequently speaks and participates in civic projects in Ocala. He may be reached at email@example.com.