Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

Family, Our First and Best Teachers

Do you remember learning simple tasks? I do. I am blessed with a writer’s memory. It records in photographic clarity all the impressions I can remember from the time I was in my crib to the present day.

Yes, I really can remember a few incidences from age 2-3; I confirmed them with my mother before she died, so I know they are true, and not stories someone told me.

I am poor at recalling details, rich in recalling images. One such image that remains with me is the time my grandmother taught me to sew. Every time I thread a needle, I recall her gnarled, blue-veined hands, the skin saggy with age, the hands telling the tale of eighty years of life lived in prayer and care for her family.

My grandmother had a very hard life. She was a young, happy bride who lost her husband all too soon, leaving her to raise three daughters alone and poor during the Great Depression. Her faith was her comfort, her solace, her strength. The crystal rosary beads she received for her wedding in 1917 are my rosary beads now, and I often wonder at the smoothness worn into the facets, the hands caressing the beads over time as both she and I pray for all of our intentions.

She lived with us, and my paternal grandmother lived across town. Because my maternal grandmother shared our home, her many siblings visited us often, and Sundays were filled with older family members visiting, remembering, sharing.

It was here that I learned so many life lessons. Nestled against the couch from my seat on the floor, leaning back against my Aunt Flossie’s legs and listening to the rich laughter of my grandmother and her siblings, I learned what it mean to be family. To be community, to share the richness of life.

Many lessons were taught by my elders in such simple, daily joys. My grandmother taught me to sew; my mother taught me to cook. My father taught me to care for things from the way he lovingly washed and waxed his car, the basement floor, the things he valued.

Today’s kids are missing so many life skills because they lack this intergenerational interaction. Their parents moved far from their family of origin for work or school; they themselves spend more time staring at a cellphone than listening to stories shared by elders.

I wrote an essay on Medium about what we learn from our elders and why Millennials need life skills classes (yes, it’s true; they are taking classes to learn basic life skills. I wish I was kidding but I”m not).  I hope you enjoy it.

Read it here: What We Lose When We Lose Our Connection to Extended Family