2014 brought an uneasy beginning to our family. Just before the clock struck midnight, my grandmother Carolyn Martin passed away. My parents, especially my mother, had worked incredibly hard to help my grandmother sell her home in Wilmington, North Carolina and helped her organize and moved to St. Louis. Grandma was very healthy 93-year old but desired to live closer to my parents in St. Louis and enjoy fun times with them without the travel. Only three weeks later she away passed and even though we were shocked, we realized that she lived a full life.
In my childhood each summer, our family would visit North Carolina and our adventure would begin with Grandma and our grandfather, Papa Jack. We would visit the beach, play golf, work on a puzzle, or walk the neighborhood. What I enjoyed most was asking her questions about life, her formative years, and listening to her wisdom. All of her great-grandchildren called her ‘Gigi’ and she took such a great interest in them. Gigi was already teaching them like she taught my sister and I as well as my cousins.
Through her legacy, my grandmother gave me five crucial lessons about life.
1. Play for Life
My grandma and my grandfather, Papa Jack, bought me my first golf clubs when I was eight years old. Their message to me was that golf is a game that you need to learn because other sports will come and go but you can enjoy golf until he day you die. Golf is a physical game but mostly played with your head so here I am not playing the sports of my youth but golf I know will be with me forever. My grandmother exercised daily at the Y, played in bridge and Mahjong groups, always had a puzzle up on the table to work on and a book by her side to devour. She knew that feeding her mind was a game and essential to live a full life.
My grandmother had many difficult circumstances in her life that give every reason to be full of sorrow yet she always found a way to keep pushing forward. What I will remember most is her laughing at a ridiculous movie or at a joke I would tell her. We can choose pain or we can choose joy. She chose joy as much as she could.
3. Know Your History
It’s no secret that I love history and write about it frequently. My love from history comes from my grandmother. In Wilmington, North Carolina she would take our family to see the USS North Carolina, a World War II era battleship. I was fascinated by the military machinery but also what it went through during the war. I also remember our family taking a trip down to Charleston, South Carolina and her showing us Fort Sumter, where the first official shots of the American Civil War took place. Grandma fed my love for history with books, stories, and encouragement to always analyze things in proper context. Two years ago, I gave Grandma a copy of the book, December 1941 and she took the time to read through the cumbersome 600 pages and share where and what she was doing when the war began. History is a part of us and essential to help us learn from our old mistakes and forge ahead. Grandma’s memory will be with me with each new page.
4. Manners Matter.
When I was young, to my mother’s chagrin, I had a bit of a ‘listening problem’. Despite my mother’s best efforts, I would defy her and be obnoxious at a table. I think my grandmother could see this on our visits and she took time to show me the importance of proper manners. Grandma shows me which fork was which, how to sit properly at the table, and how to behave when other people were talking. My sweet parents must have been exhausted as my wife and I are now with kids so I can imagine my parents welcomed my grandmother’s counsel with open arms.
5. Never Stop Learning.
When my grandmother retired, she audited courses at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She would take courses in literature, history, and other very unique courses like Feminist Literature. By trade, my grandmother was an English teacher. In her retirement, she tutored for free young disadvantaged women in Wilmington and helped them graduate high school. Her gift was taking her joy of the English language and sharing it with others. After she moved to St. Louis, she was already looking for a new course to audit in the spring semester. I am a writer because my parents encouragement but also because of my grandmother’s example.
The last interaction I had with my grandmother was when she stopped through Nashville and she sat down to read a new kids Bible that we had just introduced to our girls. Grandma kept telling me about how fascinating it was to have questions at the end of each story to help the girls understand the Bible better. I smiled as I listened to her.
I hope to see you again soon Grandma. In the meantime, I will share your legacy with my girls and for those reading this post.