tampabay.com

Grandmother's wisdom lights our path today

By JACK LEVINE
Published September 10, 2006


For most of us, no one provided a more vital link to our heritage and family history than our grandparents.

The wisdom of our elders is irrefutable. I distinctly remember so many ways my grandparents, especially my dear Grandma Minnie, influenced me by example. Here are just a few life lessons I learned at her kitchen table.

- Love knows no boundary. Keeping close to the people you love, and learning to love them without having to love everything they do, is the key to family strength. Minnie held tight to those she needed and those who needed her.

- An open door is an open heart. Minnie's kitchen table was a place where others came to eat and be fed spiritually. If neighbors or their family had a problem, she was there for them.

- Waste not, want not. Finishing our meals or saving leftovers for another time is one of the most compelling constants for our elders. Many remembered the pangs of deprivation and therefore valued the food on their plates and the treasure of having enough to eat for everyone.

- Charity begins at home. As little as they had, our grandparents seemed to find a way to help others. Minnie had a tin can in which she would drop coins - a little something for those with less than us. Their example of giving, both through volunteer time and money, provided the family an appreciation for what we had. Reaching across the street as a way of helping others is good for them and us, too!

- Cleanliness is next to godliness. A clean home is the symbol of how we should conduct our lives in the sight of others. When our guests come to our door, they should have a clear and welcoming path.

- Progress comes in little steps. "A drop plus a drop fills up the pot" was among Minnie's favorite phrases. Every day is another opportunity to take positive steps for family and community.

- Laughter is the closest distance between two people. It's a pleasure to hear a good joke, tell a witty story or listen to folk tales of the old country. "Frowns make more wrinkles than smiles," Minnie would say with glee.

- Honest compliments are among our most valued possessions. People shouldn't assume you know about their good works. Tell them they are appreciated. And if someone compliments you, accept the gift with grace.

- If there's a problem, try to fix it. Minnie knew that "you'll sit a long time with your mouth wide open before a roasted chicken will fly in." Even a failed attempt at solving the problem is better than not doing anything.

- Don't leave politics up to someone else. As an immigrant girl, Minnie felt the sting of discrimination and injustice. She was a suffragist as a young woman, and upon becoming a naturalized citizen, she voted for the first time in 1920. Minnie celebrated that right by never missing an election in her life. Even into her 90s, when she had to be helped into the voting booth, she did her duty with dignity. "Power is not given, it's won with courage and hard work," she said.

- Words without deeds are empty. Someone who makes a promise and doesn't keep his word is an emotional thief. How many people set others up for disappointment by saying rather than doing?

- Patience pays dividends. Whether it was baking her famous cinnamon buns or preparing a full holiday dinner for 16, Minnie knew that the process required patience and persistence.

- Resting is a reward for working hard. Minnie earned her rest and made the time to relax, listen to music, observe nature or read for pleasure. When the Sabbath came, Minnie understood that her rest provided the emotional and physical renewal she needed for a productive week ahead.

Jack Levine wrote this column in acknowledgement of Grandparents Day today. He is founder of the 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee and can be reached at Jack.levine@comcast.net Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.