My Grandma was an amazing woman. A product of the Great Depression, she was the most resourceful person I have ever met. She could walk into a near empty pantry and whip up a delicious meal in a jiffy, cure the plague with Vaseline and camphor oil, and reuse everything from bacon grease to old underwear. Her back patio was always covered with beautiful plants that she grew herself-ferns, shrubs, flowers, cacti- she had quite the green thumb. She was a wizard with a sewing machine and for my early years, all my best Halloween costumes were made by her. She was also a great hostess. When I was little, we always had Sunday dinner with the extended family at Grandma’s. She taught me how to set the table and how to treat our guests.
There was so much that she had to teach me that unfortunately I never learned. When I was only in middle school she began showing signs of dementia and by the time I was in high school she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and her health was noticeably failing. When I was 16 years old, she was placed in a nursing home in my uncle’s hometown, several states away and she passed away before I ever got the chance to visit her there.
As a child, I wasn’t interested in cooking or sewing, and by the time I wanted to learn, it was too late. My grandmother will never be able to teach me her special recipe for fried cabbage or honey bun cake. She’ll never be able to show me all the little tricks she knew for sewing, knitting, and even ceramics making. The well of wisdom she had to offer the world is gone, forever. I learned a little too late that I should have listened to her more.
Fortunately, my grandparents on my father’s side are still living and quite healthy for their age, and I now know the value of the knowledge and skills they possess. My Nannie is one of the best housekeepers I know. She can tell me how to get a stain out of just about anything, and buys absolutely everything at a bargain. She’s never been big on cooking but the few things she does cook, she makes better than anyone I know. Her cole slaw and salmon cakes are to die for! My Pa taught me how to fish, how to shoot a gun and a bow, and I know that if I ever have a question about car maintenance, raising small animals, or gardening, all I have to do is ask.
My faith teaches reverence for our ancestors because we are their legacy. I have learned that this also extends to our living elders. They have so much wisdom to share with the younger generations. It would be a waste not to pay attention to them and learn the things they have to teach us.
If your own parents or grandparents have already passed, the knowledge of the past is not lost to you. There are plenty of elders in our communities who have tons of knowledge to impart on us. Don’t let the wisdom of past generations fall into obscurity. Take the time to listen and learn today, while we still can.