As I wrote today’s date in my morning pages notebook, it occurred to me that today is my grandmother’s 100th birthday. She passed away in 1992, so she’s not here to celebrate, but it set me thinking about the way life moves along “in it’s petty pace from day to day” until, before you know it, a century has come and gone. I can look back now on the trajectory of her life, an ordinary girl from a small Kentucky town, second in a line of six daughters, and see the ways her character impacted my mother’s life, and mine, my son’s, and even his children and their children beyond.
In reality, the legacy of an “ordinary” person is anything but ordinary. I always credit my grandmother for my love of books and reading, because it was her voice that first brought me all the stories I loved to hear~Peter Rabbit, The Bobbsey Twins, Heidi, The Little House Books. She was always willing to read to me, and even though I never saw her reading anything for herself, she would drop whatever she was doing if I came to her with a book in hand. And it was she who provided the genetic “imprint” for my piano playing. After my own piano was delivered, I would sometimes catch her when she thought no one was listening, gloriously banging out the old hymn tunes she had once played in the little frame Baptist church next to their old farmhouse in Millwood. I would listen in fascination, seeing and hearing a completely different aspect of her, but an aspect I now recognize in myself.
There would have been very little about life in the first half of the 20th century to prepare her for life in the 21st. Always overly cautious and fearful of change, she would no doubt have been horrified by modern life, particularly the way people (meaning me!) spend so much time away from home. For her, if you were fortunate enough to have a nice home, you should be satisfied to stay in it. I didn’t quite understand this, until I learned that the only one of my grandmother’s sisters to leave home had contracted tuberculosis, which she passed on to two other sisters, and to their father, all of whom died within one year. And yes, as much as I love to travel, I often have to tamp down those little demons of fear, nagging me that I would be better off at home.
Yet, so much of the rest of her philosophy of life is also mine~that loving your family and taking care of them is the most important work you can do, that caring about your neighbors and helping them is what it means to be a Christian (whether you go to church or not!), that you should never be satisfied with anything less than your best work, whatever it is you’re doing. These are values that came through her to my mother, and to me, and that I hope I’ve passed on to my son. Basically, she was just an ordinary girl from a small town in Kentucky, but she left me some pretty extraordinary gifts, for which I’m grateful.
Now that I’ve spent half a century on earth myself, I’m more than amazed at the swift passage of time. Thinking about my grandmother today reminds me to make the most of the next half of my century, and to continue her legacy to me in a way that will honor her memory into the future.