My grandmother's influence
By em-i-lis on June 22, 2014
I stood for a long while at the sink, washing and trimming the flat of strawberries from Sunday’s farmers market. In my left hand, between thumb and forefingers, I held one berry at a time. In my right, I gently gripped the handle of a paring knife and sliced the stem end off with a motion running towards my body. My hands worked together in a practiced way, the repetitive motions so unconsciously deft that when I plucked the last berry from the colander, I was surprised.
Nanny did it this way, my Mom does too. My husband always gets nervous watching me, especially because he keeps our knives so sharp, but it’s the way I learned and the way I like to do it. As I tossed tops into the compost bin and berries into a large Pyrex measuring cup, I thought of Nanny. I miss her. I miss her grace and kindness and generous spirit. I feel sad that all the good she put into the world is now but memories, albeit important ones that still make a difference to many people.
I thought about the folks I encounter who lack this grace, who act with ugliness, entitlement or jealousy and how disappointing it is that there are people like that spreading ill will rather than goodness.
The stuff I learned from Nanny is the stuff that isn’t taught but rather, and more powerfully, modeled. I don’t know that I’m as kind as Nanny nor, in some ways, as strong. But much of how I try to be in the world -generous, thoughtful, kind, present- comes from her influence, directly and through her daughter, my mom.
I remember once being in the car with Mom, decades ago in Lake Charles, driving down Nelson Road back home from what was then Delchamps grocery store. Nelson is a busy road, and ahead of us on the righthand shoulder, we saw a woman and young child walking, struggling with heavy bags in their arms and the hot Louisiana sun beating down on their necks. Cars whizzed passed them, but Mom, without considering the alternative, pulled over and asked if we could give them a ride home. I can’t remember if they agreed; I hope they did but the outcome wasn’t what made such an impression on me that day. What seared itself into my conscience was the act itself and the dignity and respect my mother accorded the duo in her gentle offer to help.
Nanny would have done the same thing. She grew up poor as get out, though better off than Papa, my grandfather, but as with so many who never have much materially, she was incredibly generous with what she did possess, things and also kindness. Her sincerity, her tolerance, her patience and willingness to serve as open ear and shoulder to cry on made such an impact on so many people. She and Papa helped others in every way they could, and I grew up hearing those stories and learning from them.
Though I wish I’d developed a thicker skin after all these years, I am still both upset and offended when I witness stingy and and entitled behavior. Both strike me as fairly selfish really; it’s one thing to stand up for and take care of oneself, but it’s quite another to act dismissively without reason.
I made a bunch of jam with most of the strawberries and will put up a last batch tomorrow to use up the remaining eight cups. (A flat of berries is 20+ cups y’all.) And I thought about how lucky I was to have Nanny in my life for so long and how the best way to honor her is to comport myself like she would have as best I can.
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