International Women’s Day was 8 days ago, but I am notoriously bad at planning ahead, so here we are… A little late. The next few posts will be dedicated to a few of the bravest women I know. They have incredible stories, and I would love to share them with you. We will start with Margaret “Jean” Grinnell. My beautiful grandmother. Here she is:
Isn't she beautiful? This picture was taken the last time I saw my Grandma Jean. It was Christmas time. My kids did not want to go visit her. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to as a 7 or 8 year-old. There’s a weird smell in nursing homes. And it’s awkward. They repeat themselves. They forget who you are. You don’t know what to talk to them about or ask them about…
So to prepare them, I said, “Think about things you might want to know about life when she was a kid, because she’s 92, and she was a little girl a long time ago.”
I said, “If you want to bring a game to play while we are there, you could ask Grandma Jean if she wants to play.”
I said, “Sometimes nursing homes have yucky smells, but it is very rude to comment about them. If there is a yucky smell, just tolerate it. And sometimes it can be boring to visit older people because they just sit there, but that’s just because they’re very tired. If you are bored, make conversation, but you will not whine and complain that you are bored. Do you understand me? Grandma Jean loves us and wants to see us. She is probably lonely and tired and when you are lonely and tired, you need your family, so we will go, we will talk to her, and then we will drive to see your cousins.”
We went. She called them stinky boys. We laughed. I told the boys about her lemon pie, and she complained that she hadn’t had one in years. (My mom had just brought one the week prior.) She told stories about their Grammie Mel, which they loved. We hugged and chatted. My boys played MadLibs and matchbox cars in the corner. Then we left.
A couple of weeks ago, Grandma Jean had the flu and died in her sleep.
And I can’t stop thinking about what I should’ve said to my kids. I had made a big deal about how they were to behave while we were there. They should tolerate the inconvenience… But what I should’ve said was, “Boys, take a good look at this woman’s face. Because this is what strength looks like. This is what tough looks like. This is what brave looks like. This is what it looks like to have a good sense of humor. This is what not giving up looks like.”
Because if Grandma Jean was anything, she was strong. She was tough. She was brave. She had a good sense of humor, and she didn’t give up.
She raised 7 kids alone. SEVEN. The youngest was 2 when my grandpa died. SEVEN kids for years and years and years. All by herself.
Sure, she probably watched more John Wayne movies than is good for a person. Sure, she threatened to make you a “flat talkin grease spot” if you misbehaved or feed you a “knuckle sandwich” if you whined about being hungry, but she loved fiercely. She lived bravely, and she laughed heartily. And she was tough. Boy was she tough.
She was so tough that when my kids are older and stressed about school, sports, music competitions and the like… When they are overwhelmed and want to give up, I will pull out this picture, and say all of the things I should’ve said that day. I’ll say, “Take a good look, kids. This woman is a part of your heritage. She is your Great Grandma. She never gave up. She was poor and alone and raised 7 kids that way. And you know what she’d say if she saw you sitting here whining about what you’re whining about? She’d say, “If you don’t get your ass out the door in 5 minutes and do what you said you’d do, I’m gonna make you a flat talkin grease spot and then drop you off at the Salvation Army. Now quit your belly achin and get.” I love you. Have a nice day.”
She didn't have much sympathy, but then again, I don't think we need sympathy. We need true grit, and that, she had in spades.