(Originally published on my old blog June 7, 2007)
"Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. You just pay them no never-mind!"
"You darn-tootin’ better not let me catch you carrying on like that. That’s all I’ll say!"
Grandma’s advice was often contradictory. She had no trouble saying, one moment, that we shouldn’t let what other people think guide our decisions, then the next moment admonish us for not doing things her way. While it could be very aggravating, it was actually less meddlesome than it sounds. She really did expect you do to what you thought best. Just as she would do what she thought best. And if what she thought was best was to tell you that you were making a big mistake, then by god that’s what she’d do.
If you didn’t agree, she expected you to say so. That was a lesson not everyone understood. There was a point where she would agree to disagree–if you had the backbone to stand up for your opinion and to stand up to her. And sometimes it took more than just backbone.
My Great-uncle Lyle, her oldest brother, used to love telling the story of her school lunch box. One day, when grandma was in grade school, she came home with her lunch box battered out of shape, hinge broken, and so on. Seems there was an older boy who teased her. She went after him, swinging the lunch pail. He ran. She caught him, tackled him, and wolloped him with the lunch pail until he apologized.
Her parents (my great-grandparents) punished her for fighting and ruining the lunch box. Great grandpa got her another lunch box, but warned her if she did it again, she’d start taking her lunch to school in an old water bucket.
The boy teased her again some days later. Not wanting to get beaten again, the boy chose a location where he could run into some thorny blackberry bushes. He started taunting her, and when she came after him, he ran into the bushes and brambles.
Grandma didn’t hesitate. She chased him through the thorns and vines, tackled him again, sat on him, and beat him with the lunch box until he apologized.
For the rest of the school year, she carried her lunch to school in the water bucket.
Every time my great-uncle told that story, Grandma would point out that the boy stopped teasing her after the second incident. One time after the tale was told, someone asked what the boy had teased her about. Great-uncle Lyle said, "She would never tell us." But after a bit of prodding Grandma finally agreed that maybe it was okay to tell that the boy had said Great-grandpa was an outlaw, a bad influence, and few other unpleasant things.
Great-uncle Lyle pointed out that Great-grandpa was a moonshiner, a moonshine runner (this was during prohibition), and involved in several other questionable activities. "So, he was an outlaw."
"Yeah, but that didn’t give that boy any right to insult my daddy!"
The story is even funnier when you know that at an earlier age Grandma had tried to dispose of a whole shed full of moonshine. Another time she had threatened to tell the revenuers where the still was. Great-grandma once said that Grandma was a member of the Temperance Army by the age of five. Great-grandpa shot back that she’d been born a Temperance Soldier and Crusader.
We buried Grandma last week. I’ve had several sad moments the last couple weeks, but I keep remembering that silly bucket story. Including one other part: Grandma said she wasn’t a bit ashamed to carry her lunches in the water bucket the rest of the year, because she’d gotten it defending her father. What the boy had said may have been true, but it was wrong.
I think these stories represent the most important lessons I learned from Grandma: just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you don’t respect them or love them. Something can be both true and wrong at the same time. Finally, stand up for family and loved ones, whether you agree with them or not.
At the funeral, so many people talked about feeling adopted by her–in many cases that she was the mother or grandmother they never had–that one of my cousins finally said, "I never knew I had this many brothers and sisters. Welcome to the family."
Which brings me to the lesson she taught that I can’t sum up in an essay (she spent her whole life living it, after all): treat everyone as family, because all we have that really matters is each other.
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. –Dr. Seuss
Copyright © 2007 Gene Breshears. All Rights Reserved.