Earlier this year I lost my last grandma. Her passing wasn’t a total surprise as she was getting up in years. Even though her time was going to come someday- it still wasn’t easy. In fact, as we get closer to Christmas, I find I am missing her horribly.
The past couple days I’ve been reflecting on our family Christmas’s from times past. Going to Grandma’s was always part of our family tradition. We knew going to see her was a couple hour drive and you never knew how all the relatives were going to act that day- but one thing that’s been pinging at my heart this year as I reflect on her and how she influenced my life is that she was a great example of a leader.
Grandma was not overly school educated- in fact, if I recall correctly, she really only finished 8th grade or so. One thing she was though, was a woman full of love, respect for the core value of family and community, she had grit, a Get-R-Done attitude and she always lead by serving.
When you came to her house (anytime of the year) you were always greeted with warm welcome. It didn’t matter what she had been going through personally, she didn’t let drama keep her a victim. Instead, she greeted you with a genuine welcome- whether you were long time friend or a new acquatinence. It was respect across the board.
I do remember though that it wasn’t always giggles and smiles at her house. In fact, she kept a good rule on the house and you always knew where you stood. ( I’ve been told I am like that too. I expect some reading this who know me may NOT find that funny…LOL! ) I have vivid memories of sitting on the ‘davenport’ with hands under the bum waiting for Grandpa to get home so we could go choose our belt. (Whew! Glad those days are over.) The point here being, there were rules and expectations in her home. Not overly big for a growing child, but none the less, they were there.
She gave us direction of how to be a good person even if we were little. She was willing to teach us right from wrong. She gave us many opportunities to have some freedoms we could not (or did not) get at mom and dads. She also understood that at times, it was important for us to learn by allowing us to suffer the consequences of our actions and choices.
As we got older, Grandma moved to the other side of town. Grandpa passed when I was young and Grandma, being the centered, strong woman she was, chose to never marry again. Instead, she filled out the rest of her days by serving other families. She had become a cook (Grandpa taught her that when they were dating) and she ended up cooking for one of the biggest universities in the state. (Needless to say, when Grandma cooked- she COOKED!!) We always had food to feed an army- literally sometimes! (We’re still trying to figure out the math to reduce her recipie for her famous bread and rolls… I heard the recipie makes 172 loaves!!)
She later went on to cook for a church/school for young kids. The church also owned the house across the street. That’s where Grandma lived many years after Grandpa passed. It was a cool house to go stay at. One of the ways to describe it was that it was kind of like a cross between a bread and breakfast and the Ronald McDonald house.
People from all walks of life, who had a family member in the hospital, would come and rent one of the rooms at her house. She would cook for them, always have the house spotless with clean sheets, linens, etc. When these new visitors would come home at night from being at the hospital all day, she would lend an open, honest, caring ear to them.
When we went to stay with Grandma in the summer (or anytime through out the year)- it was expected of us to contribute to the caring, cooking and cleaning in preparation for the nightly return of her guests. She expected us to be an example to these people and show our good attitudes and manners. In her home, that seemed always easy to do. ( Ok- mostly easy to do!)
This was a woman who I always loved, respected and held dear in my heart. She was special to me growing up- but now that I’ve spent so much of this last week remembering Christmas with her, I realize that she really was a consumate leader. She was often soft spoken- but her essence was strong. She was strength to many when they needed it. She served and led at the same time. She didn’t outwardly complain- and in the most trying of times, she was the epitome of what many so called leaders today lack. She had genuine integrity and a desire to make your world a better place.
Her leadership was about giving first. In fact- when I decided to move to California, it was Grandma that was the hardest one to say good-bye to. I wasn’t sure if she would understand my decision to move so far away. After I moved out here, for many a year, every Christmas I would receive this amazing ‘care package’ from her.
Christmas time baking at her house included an assortment of amazing confections, treats and stick to the belly type of food. She had the world’s best fudge – hands down. A little bit of that went a long way for the sweet tooth! We would be tempted with peanut butter cookies (again- I have yet to find a recipe that can compare). She would make these treats called Buckeyes (peanut butter balls hand dipped in chocolate), lots and lots of Christmas cookies.
She would make pies; pecan and mincemeat for my dad, apple, cherry or blueberry for the choosing, pumpkin pie, the cranberry bread, and on top of that, she had this dish that had Handmade noodles! Not enough to do all the cooking but to actually make all the noodles before she made the dish! (I could go on… but I think you get the point.)
My care package would be filled with an assortment of the breads and confections. It always touched my heart that over the years she still continued to bake and send those packages with love. It was part of her give. She lead with selfless giving for many, many years.
I hadn’t really realized until just recently, the real impact of her leadership. Her heart of giving and her genuine leadership without care to who you were, what your background was, your state of being at the time she met you, or the circumstances that you were going through. If you were the kind of person who was willing to ‘get things done’ you were part of the family. She was always ready to open her home and be that quiet, strong person to inspire you and give you that ‘You can do this’ kind of attitude.
She created the tradition in our family of giving. She lead the tradition and represented the best core values and ethics that real leaders exude. She was not serving out of ego or a need for acknowlegement. She lead through service simply because she had the heart and desire to do so. It was the right thing to do and it was simply who she was.
As I look at this Christmas week closing fast on us, I have been teaching and sharing with my children more of the bits and pieces of their heritage. They are coming of age where they should be able to really remember and ‘get it’. It has been on my heart to continue in her legacy- her leadership legacy she started when she was alive. It is a legacy, I believe through me, still continues today.
We will be making some Buckeyes this Christmas to add to our family tradition. Maybe next year we’ll add some more of her goodies. Our door has always been open for those who need a place to go to be with family – especially if you leave the ‘I’m a victim of life attitude at the door’- and instead, strap on the ‘let’s Get-R-Done’ state of mind. I know this part of our tradition is from my past, and I believe that it will inspire my children and those around me to take on the leadership attitude of servitude for many years to come.
May you and your family be safe and blessed this holiday season!