Grandma's Wisdom

Yesterday I announced an impromptu blog series on strong women.  It seemed fitting following my posts about Leymah Gbowee, mothers-in-law, and my mom's toilet cleaning philosophy.  Yesterday I wrote about how much of a rock star my Grandma Canfield was.  Here's the crazy thing:  as unlikely as it seems to have another woman with that kind of strength in one's life, much less in one's family, I do. A couple of months ago I posted this comment on Facebook about receiving an email from my Grandma.

Grandma's Email

A reader commented, asking  me to share her wisdom.  Since then I've collected a quick post full of things I've learned from her, and I finally get to share it with you!  Worth the wait - she's completely hilarious.

In no particular order, here are some of the things I've learned from my Grandma Harness.

Grandma on minimalism and living in community:

One evening, when a bunch of their children and grandchildren were visiting, Grandma and Grandpa's toilet overflowed.  My uncle had to run next door to borrow a plunger.  After the kids got everything under control, my mom said, "Mom, we need to run to the corner and get you a plunger!"  To which Grandma replied,

"No you don't; I have a plunger.  It's next door."

Grandma on portion control:  

"Just half of a piece of pie is plenty for me."

...10 minutes later...

"Would you cut me a small piece off of that half please?"

...10 minutes later...

"Well there's just a sliver left.  I suppose I will finish it."

Grandma on parenting:

"Kate, sometimes babies just cry."

Grandma on ministry:

My mother shared this story with me about her time in Ireland.  Grandma and Grandpa always had people in and out of the house - lots and lots of people - for dinner, tea, and visiting.  There was one couple that my mom remembers to have been - to put it delicately - very, terribly smelly.  She said, "Grandma was loving but practical.  She invited them in, fed them, let them sit on the couches - but she made sure all the doors in the house were closed so that their smell stayed in the living room.  They were always welcome, but that didn't mean our whole house had to stink.  I think it was her way of loving them AND  loving us."

I giggle out lout every time I picture my grandmother making rounds to close all the doors.  It's funny, but it makes me aspire to love even the smelliest people.

Grandma on boundaries and balance:

The last time I visited my Grandma, Sam was only 3 months old.  At the time, Grandma had been given a "six weeks or less" prognosis from her oncologist (strong woman), so although nobody verbalized it, we were thinking that Grandma had to meet Sam, see Madeline again, and that I wanted to listen to her and hug her as much as I could.  These are the things she did and said during that time that inspired me.

    • She was active.  (She has always walked to and from the grocery store and taken long evening strolls, but even this week, on so much medication, she cooked, cleaned, entertained, and played with the kids.)
    • She knew her boundaries.  When she got tired, she napped.  When her feet were bothersome, she put them up.  After a rest, she got right back up and kept going.
    • She said, "I only cook one big meal a day, and this is it!"  (My favorite part about this house rule is that it had NOTHING to do with her prognosis.  My kind of woman.)
    • She had all of her grandchildren over to visit & play.
    • She laughed (as in, nose-crinkle, eye-crinkle, seriously joyful laughed) a lot.
    • She had peace.  And faith.  And practicality.  But especially peace.

Grandma on ministry (again) and marriage:

This is the email I was referencing when I posted my Facebook status.

Hi.  I finished rereading this book ("God's Front Door") and thought of you.  I liked the easy, short chapters with big ideas.  I like her writing...I did one Bible Study video of Jill's and wasn't impressed, so I will stick to her books.  In both books she mentions her feelings about her husband being gone a lot and the struggle she had with that.  I too related to it.  I think "ministry" can be hard on a couple. Grandpa & I sat down and figured out our time - found breakfast to be best.  We got everyone settled and off to school etc. and ate together then.  Once a month we went out for breakfast, so we wouldn't be interrupted by household things & people. We did try to eat together as family at night. We figured out each morning what time would be best for all...Anyway, all this to say enjoy the book.

love & prayers Grandma (give all a hug from us.)

Yes, my grandma emails.  I can hear her opinionated, matter-of-fact voice when she writes "I wasn't impressed, so I will stick to her books."  I'm thankful for her understanding of ministry with small children and her insight to know that this is exactly where I am in life.  And what do you know, just a day later, a copy of the book showed up at my door from Amazon.  Because she is also thoughtful and generous.

From watching my grandma I learned about listening to my husband as a way to love him, because she listens to my grandpa.   I've learned about choosing joy and forgiveness to set the tone for my home, and how, amazingly, when I do, the attitudes of everyone else fall right in line.  This is the kind of thing that people tell you about marriage, but deep down in my heart it makes me pout because, why do I have to be the tone-setter?  Huh?  But when I watch Grandma I think, "Well, if she can do it for so many years, then gosh darn it, so can I."

  • My Grandma Harness raised five kids.
  • She lived on the foreign mission field for 26 years.
  • She's beaten lymphoma (and leukemia) (and their various treatments) over and over and over again for 26 years now, sometimes against all odds.  As I mentioned, just last year she looked a prognosis of "6 weeks or less" in the face and, with prayer, faith, grace, determination, joy, and sheer ferocity of will, defied it. When she was at her sickest, her hospital room was know by the hospital staff as "the joyful room."  There were family and stories and laughter and hope, though no one was in denial about the severity of the situation.

This is a tiny excerpt of a card that my Grandpa wrote my Grandma for Mother's Day one year.

"In my mind I was thinking how I might describe you to others without all the syrupy, sugary things we see this time of year - and I decided I would tell them : -Jan loves the Lord. -Jan loves me. -Jan loves the children. and she acts accordingly."

And she acts accordingly.

While I never got to know my rock star of a Grandma Canfield as an adult, I have had the privilege to know my Grandma Harness.  I wish you could, too.  I wish you could come with me and listen to her over real tea.  About Ireland.  About being married to a pastor, raising kids, and loving people even when they smell and have lice and give it to all your kids.  About difficult diagnoses, and faith.  Mostly I know we would laugh a lot.

This is the end of my Grandma stories for a while.  I like to think that some of their  immovable strength gets passed down through the bloodline somehow.  I'm not sure about myself most days, but when I look at my daughter, when I'm astounded by her stubbornness and convictions, when I watch her overcome, I think it must be true.

phone nov 2012 016

Each of them could kill me for sharing this photo, but it's my favorite. 4 generations of mothers and daughters - first thing in the morning.  EVEN BEFORE COFFEE.  Mom, me, Madeline, and Grandma H.


What is the funniest or most practical piece of advice you've ever received from your Grandmother?  Comment to share!