Every year, I travel to Taiwan to see my Ah-Ma, my mother’s mother and my only remaining grandparent. She’s 83, paralyzed on one side and still wears more fake eyelashes than me. A few years ago, she watched — with grandmotherly interest — as I mended my shirt with elementary stitching.
Minutes later, she declared that my stitching was actually just getting uglier, but I still think about her words to this day.
Sunday, Sept. 10 is National Grandparents Day, and we’re dedicating this newsletter to the strong women who raised our parents. We asked readers to share their family matriarch’s best life advice.
This is for the grandmothers who love us, even when we don’t call nearly enough. Thank you.
“When I was 12, my grandmother, Charlotte Cooke Bowers, told me it was important to always stand up for myself, but also to show humility when wrong: ‘If you’re right, and you know you’re right, FIGHT! Stand up for yourself. But if you’re wrong, then admit it immediately. And, if appropriate, apologize.’
She imparted that wisdom to me over 33 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I live by her words.”
Jen Smith, Dallas
“It wasn’t so much words as actions. My grandmother left a church when people there were uncomfortable with black people coming to the area. My grandmother invited random people to family holidays. My grandmother, although quiet, always had a way of standing up for what was right. She raised more than one activist.”
Ashley Johnson, Spokane, Wash.
“My grandmother, Mary Veneroso, used to tell me it’s okay to not feel guilty when you eat chocolate and French fries for your meal. I still do this!”
Alicia Cooke, McQuay, Tucson
“I was a few days home from the hospital with my new and first baby, who had a terrible colic condition. I was exhausted and the baby was crying and crying. Grandma was visiting. She said, ‘Give me the baby and go take a shower.’ She took the squalling baby and settled into the rocking chair.
When I came back from my shower the baby was sleeping comfortably in Grandma’s arms. I said to her in disbelief: ‘What did you do?’
‘I just told her everything was going to be all right,’ she said.
I never failed to comfort my children with that mantra; and I use it now to ease myself to sleep in my middle age. Margie Mathews lived a long life and saw both my girls grow into their early teens. She was a grandma in every spirit of the word.”
Beth Py-Lieberman, Silver Spring, Md.
“‘Worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do but gets you nowhere,’ said grandma Mary Green Johnson.”
Cathy Applewhite, Roaring Gap, N.C.
“My babci (Polish for grandmother) always reminded us to push down our cuticles. She [Bernice Wesley] was strictly against nail salons cutting them due to the risk of infection. (But I always let them, shhh.) However, I often catch myself absentmindedly pushing down my cuticles and I always get compliments on what nice nails I have!”
Hannah Wesley, New York
“I recently found an email from [my late grandmother]. Apparently she’d said something to upset me, and she basically said, ‘I speak rashly sometimes. Words come out before I know what I’m doing. I’ve spent years trying to change and wishing I was more like other people, but this is who I am. No apologies — accept it.’ I know that can sound a little harsh but the idea blew me away: the idea that we can give ourselves the grace to be ourselves, flaws and all … I went out that day and got ‘No apologies — accept it’ tattooed on me to remind myself that it’s okay to live all the way into my edges.”
Corinna Fabre, Seattle
“Never marry for sex,” said grandma Wink Fraley.
Janiece Murphy, Castle Rock, Colo.
“My grandmother Wilma Bridges Beard was a terrific gardener. She always said, ‘Put a nickel plant in a quarter hole.’ She meant the quality of the hole you plant something in matters more than the plant. And the advice accrues to more than gardening, of course.
I am now a grandmother myself. I don’t find myself with adages for them, but one behavior I encourage when I’m with them — without their parents — is backwards dinner. Dessert, first. It all gets eaten but disrupting the rhythm of life is fun but also instructive. Learning that patterns exist but can be messed with matters in life. And who doesn’t love dessert first sometimes?”
Jane Beard, Churchton, Md.