Slices of Wisdom
Yesterday I met my Grandmother. Of course I’ve known her since the day I was born. But if I’m being honest, I know more about the life of my co-workers—after all, they have Facebook—than I do about a woman I’ve known for thirty years. If you’re honest with yourself, you may realize that you haven’t met your Grandmother or truly appreciated her wisdom either.
After all, she’s “Grandma.” She makes you dinner, gives you Christmas presents, and always signs your birthday card “Oodles of Love.” It’s easy to mistake her for a person who’s always been a retired senior citizen who doesn’t work and devotes her life to happily making cookies for you. Grandmothers, however, are historical treasure troves. Although I took a class in North Carolina History, my Grandmother knows more about Raleigh’s past than I do. In fact, academic perceptions may not be all they’re cracked up to be.
Our “introduction” began with an unintended insult.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve never lived in an apartment or had room mates.”
“Well, yeah. You never had to take care of yourself because you just lived with your parents, got married, and Grandpa supported you.”
I didn’t mean it as a personal attack, but I was feeling a bit snippy. How dare she compare her simple 1950’s housewife, un-feminist lifestyle to my current situation? She stared at me. “Actually,” she said, “I worked. We both worked hard until we could afford to build our own house.” Until this moment, all I had really known about my Grandmother was that she was a housewife, raised four children, and made an awesome fruitcake for the holidays. I just assumed my Grandpa, a business man who owned his own company, had taken care of all the finances. After all, it was the 1950’s, when, according to history, women stayed home and made sandwiches. As it turns out, my Grandmother worked at a printing company, where she engraved stationary for soldiers in World War II. For how many long-distance lovers had she provided beautiful stationary on which to pour their hearts during the lengthy months apart?
Furthermore, to my absolute shock, she informed me that she had attended business school. And suddenly a new image of my grandmother began to emerge, not as a traditional 1950’s housewife, but as an independent, self-sustaining, strong-willed business-woman. What an odd dichotomy to the classical perception. I had noticed, actually, that she always had a shrewd business sense. She could manage money, bank accounts, and property sales far better than many college-graduates my own age. However, I always chalked it up to Grandpa having taught her during his years running Alexander Welding.
Fascinated, I questioned her, and her eyes grew nostalgic as she told me stories from her past. It’s no secret that in modern America, people above the age sixty-five are often viewed as having little to contribute to society. Oftentimes, we overlook their wisdom. What could they possibly know about the dreams and struggles of the youngest generation? It’s a sad generational gap. But the truth is, however little she may know about the latest clubs and hot-spots in our city, Raleigh was hers far before it was mine. She might just know a little about life here, and life in general.
“Did you have any dreams? Something you always wanted to be or do with your life?”
“Actually,” she said, lighting up, “I always wanted to be an opera singer. Or a concert pianist.
Uh…what?? No way. All this time I’d thought her life’s dream was to become a Grandmother and make cookies for me! She told me things about Raleigh I’d never known, like how Cameron Village has an entire underground mall beneath it that’s been sealed up for decades. When I told her about our trip to the remains of the haunted Catholic Orphanage on Bilyeu Street, she smiled and asserted, “I used to walk there from my home. My father went there for gradeschool.” When I excitedly questioned her about the ghost stories she laughed, “I never heard anything about that.”
Well, I still think it’s haunted. Grandmothers don’t know everything.
Slices of Wisdom
So with this slice, I start a series: Slices of Wisdom. There are millions of stories and histories stored in the amazing minds of our eldest generation, if only we’ll take a while to slow down and listen to them. These people are the ones who created the city we live in. They know its secrets, and they know the secrets to creating a great marriage, or losing a loved one, or chasing a dream. And, in many cases, we ignore those stories, conditioned to perceive our grandparents as having only always existed as, well, Grandma and Grandpa. We know them. But now it’s time to meet them.