When I was small, my mother would always say “When I grow up, I want to be like your grandmother.” Even before I recognized people as models, I knew that my paternal Grandma was admired by others for her character and for her generosity. Later, as a teenager and a young adult, I independantly decided that my grandmother was someone whom I aspired to be like.
My Grandma was into vintage before vintage was trendy, she was the orginal hipster; she would dumpster dive in her wealthy neighbourhood, looking for treasures that she could breathe new life into by refinishing or recovering. When my father would mention that my grandmother had rescued a chair that we were sitting on from the trash, the image of my Grandma upside down, with only her stockinged legs and good leather shoes poking out of a dumpster would pop into my head. This, among other actions of hers reinforced to me the importance of being a steward of the earth and reducing one’s impact on the planet. When my mother deplores my dirty hippie-isms, I remind her where they started.
My grandmother taught me to be resourceful. As a young woman on a tiny income with four children, my Grandma wanted raspberries but knew that she wouldn’t be able to purchase enough for her large family with three growing boys. So my Grandma planted rows of raspberry canes in her backyard, in addition to her large vegetable garden. I carefully observed my grandmother and learned from her. As an adult, it was this ability to stretch a dollar and find unusual solutions which allowed me to go back to school full time after buying a house in the same year.
Despite never being paid for a day of work my whole life, my grandmother worked tirelessly my whole childhood; she had countless charities that she supported. Alongside the eight graduation photos of my cousins and I, my Grandma keeps photos of her “adopted” children from other countries that she sends goods and money to. When I was little, she drove a couple of nights a week for “Meals on Wheels” after spending the day baking for the local youth shelter. On her trips abroad, my grandmother gathered the little shampoos and soaps and upon returning home, would take them, along with other goods that she had to the women’s shelter. My Grandma is the impetus for my own charitable acts, I continually try to live up to her example.
While I admire and aspire to each of these qualities, what I love most about my grandmother is that she’s brave. Most recently, she demonstrated this trait by moving into a retirement home. At almost 92 years of age, Grandma made the decision that she had cooked enough, cleaned enough and taken out enough trash for a lifetime, so she turned to my uncle and said the name of a retirement home she’d heard about on the radio. Next thing the family knows, badda-bing, badda-boom, Grandma is out of her house, mixing and mingling with other nonagenarians, and ever the young hunk loving woman, even some octageneraians. This willingness to break out of one’s beloved and familiar mold and bolding choose a different life captures my grandmother’s determined spirit.
For a time, I was worried about my Grandma moving to a new place, having a different routine, I wondered how she would feel no longer living in the same house that she spent the majority of her life in. But when I visitedmy grandmother at her new residence in June, I found her socializing with her tablemates as if they were old friends and pushing her walker about, on a mission to find the salon in the building. Even as an elderly person, my grandma continues to be brave, pushing forward with determination. As a mother myself now, I find myself repeating my own mother’s words to my little boy; “When I grow up, I want to be like your great-grandmother.” Those are some big shoes to fill though.