Today is my grandmother’s 80th birthday.  I feel so lucky to have not only gotten to know this woman not only as a grandmother and child, but also as an adult and a friend.  Throughout my life she has always lived far away from me – in Florida or California – but maybe that’s part of what has made our relationship so special.  We’ve talked on the phone and visited each other, and I am always struck by how much she makes sure not to take any time together for granted.  She’s been one of the biggest supports in my life, always listening and giving advice.  So on this special occasion, I want to share a few of the important things she has taught me.

  • Go after what you want.  My grandparents first met at a fraternity mixer in college.  All of the men had to take off

    Lulu and me, on my most recent trip to California

    one shoe and put it in the middle of the dancefloor, and all of the women then chose a shoe from the pile and had to dance with its owner.  The story goes that my grandmother watched carefully which shoe belonged to the handsome guy who caught her eye and made a beeline for that shoe in the pile.  It gets mildly less romantic when you hear that the first thing my Papa said to her was “Hurry up and give me my shoe back, I’ve got a hole in my sock,” but that was the start of a relationship that led to 52 years to happy marriage before my grandfather passed away.

  • Remember where you came from.  My Lulu, as we call her, always talks fondly about the days when she and my Papa “didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” but she always does it with such love and longing in her voice that you imagine she wants to be back there.  When my husband and I were first married, she reminded me often to take the time to enjoy our time together and learn from the struggles we would go through in order to become stronger together.
  • Give of yourself.  After my grandfather retired, Lulu and Papa went to Lithuania on a volunteer trip.  Papa, a career civil engineer, worked to teach engineers there to set up new systems; Lulu taught English.  At 80 years old, my grandmother even now makes the effort to volunteer with an organization that raises money for her community and does different service projects.  She has taught me the importance of being selfless.
  • Get over it.  One of Lulu’s favorite sayings is “offer it up,” which, as far as I can tell, means to get over yourself.  Whenever one of us is whining (or canowering, as she says) about something petty, Lulu comes back with that little gem.  Offer it up and get on with your life, already.  Lulu knows that life is too short to dwell on the negative.
  • Know who you are.  Lulu is confident in her beliefs and strong in her will.  She doesn’t let others tell her what to think, nor does she listen to hurtful comments that come from ignorance of not understanding her values.  She has taught me to have faith in who I am and who I can be.
  • Take pride in yourself.  When I was in third grade, I remember rushing through my homework to “sit and visit” with Lulu on one of her trips to see us.  A retired elementary school teacher, she looked at my sloppy work and told me very seriously that I should never put my name on something I was not proud of.  That has always stuck with me, and that work ethic has followed me through graduate school and into my professional career.  Other vestiges of schoolteacher remain; she grades herself on how well she does the crossword puzzle in the newspaper each morning, and deducts points for neatness if she has to scribble something out.

I hope that I live a life half as rich as Lulu has already enjoyed, although I must say she shows no sign of stopping now.  And I hope that someday somebody can say about me what I feel about her.  She has taught me so much, in her own sweet, funny, sharp as a tack, kind way.  She doesn’t take herself  or life too seriously – except Jeopardy, the Green Bay Packers and the morning crossword puzzle.  Those are the important things, after all.

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