My grandmother was the keeper of secrets and wisdom. She was silent but wise. Without many words, she still taught me so much.
Her silence made her even more fascinating to me – with a certain look in her eyes and a smirk on her lips, she would share very brief, but impactful bits of information. She handed them out sparingly, like the sweet hard candies she kept in her change purse.
There are 3 life lessons that my grandmother taught me that I will carry with me through life. Things that, at the time, I may not have realized the significance, but now, I do and am thankful for them.
Some are silly. Some are serious. But all are cherished.
1. Put Some Sugar in Your Sauce
Watching my grandmother make her Sunday pot of spaghetti sauce was always a big event. The large pot she pulled from beneath the sink hid her small 4’10” body behind the stove. It was so tall and so shiny. I remember sitting across the counter from it, leaning in and out, watching my face morph in the reflection.
She started by chopping up garlic – I hated the smell then but love it now! Then she added some oil, some onions and 3 different types of tomatoes. I watched her sprinkle green flakes into her cupped hand and drop them into the pot.
“You don’t need measurements, you just need your eye,” she would tell me.
She expertly shaped meatballs with her wrinkled hands – they were perfectly symmetrical and evenly sized. I still don’t know exactly how that’s done.
Once the meat was in and the sauce was nearing the top of the pot I watched her grab a small yellow canister off the counter. She held it in her hands and peeked around the side of the pot – “Sugar”, she whispered. I don’t know who she thought was listening.
She opened the lid and sprinkled 3 heaping teaspoons right into the sauce. I remember thinking, “My grandma’s losing it. Who puts sugar in tomato sauce?” Well, she did then and I still do now.
Her sauce was the perfect balance of sweet and savory. When we’d sit around the table and everyone would comment on how delicious it was, grandma would catch my eye and wink.
2. You Don’t Need the Drugstore
My grandmother was one of those people who believed in using household remedies for everything – if you could find it in your kitchen, you could use it for healing just about anything.
We called her the white witch – if you had a stain on your white clothes, she’d get it out. From mud to blood to grease, I still don’t know exactly how she did it but she was the stain removal queen! Hairspray for blood and a special mix of detergent, stain cleaner, and some items from the cabinet for everything else. She would soak it, rub it in, soak it some more. She had the patience of a saint.
My grandmother created life hacks before they were a thing.
My white leggings with pink bows printed on them – I will never forget the day I thought I’d ruined them with grass stains. My brother and I were chasing each other around my grandmother’s yard – another amazing and magical place. I tripped and went down hard on my knees. When I stood up, there were two large, green grass stains staring up at me.
I cried. I ran inside the house – “They’re ruined!” My grandmother gave me a tissue, said, “Shhh,” patted me on the head and simply said, “Grandma will fix it.” And she did. She always did.
Her favorite “life hack”? Making toothpaste – a little baking soda and some oil. She didn’t believe in flavoring it. No toothbrush? No problem! That’s what your finger is for!
It’s safe to say that anytime I slept over her house, I made sure not to forget my toothbrush or toothpaste.
3. Sometimes, Men Need Their Space
If my grandmother thought of life hacks before they were popular, then my grandfather was responsible for the very first man cave.
The basement at my grandparent’s house was his space. I wasn’t allowed to go down there unless I was either:
1) Bringing him food
2) Telling him dinner was ready
3) He granted me permission.
I will never forget my grandfather’s basement.
When I opened the door to his “place”, the entire feeling that surrounded me shifted. It became quiet. It smelled different. I stood up straighter and held my breath.
The stairs were long and wooden. As I descended, I could hear the sounds of my grandfather’s war movies – gunshots and shouting. I could smell stale cigarettes and mothballs.
The floor was concrete – cold and hard under my tiny feet. There was a single step that brought you up to where he sat at his desk. If he was at his desk, he was drawing.
My grandfather was an amazing artist. He used pointillism – I didn’t know what it was then, I was just amazed at how he turned thousands of tiny dots into a single, solid picture.
His hands amazed me. He worked in silence – breathing heavy, pausing at times to ponder but never looking up.
If I was delivering him food, I would simply place it on the snack table beside his desk. I would turn and walk away. Just when I thought he hadn’t even noticed me, he would say the same thing, every time – “Thanks, cookie.”
My grandmother taught me that sometimes, men just need their space. This may be an outdated concept, but it’s one that has stayed with me all my life.
I will forever put sugar in my spaghetti sauce, search my cabinets for ways to create my own household remedies and respect my husband’s man cave.
Sometimes, you just can’t shake the things your family instills in you. And that’s just fine with me.