Lessons from My Grandmother
Sometimes looking in the rear-view mirror of life gives you insight you hadn’t seen before. I was doing a little Spring cleaning this weekend and came across a tribute I wrote 9 years ago to my grandmother. It was published in the Direct Marketing Assn newsletter as I was getting ready to start my term as president.
I’d like to share it with you because it speaks to what’s most important to all of us: appreciating what you have and making the most of your life, even if these are not the best of times. I’d like to know your thoughts and what life lesson you learned from someone who is or was important to you, so please leave me a comment.
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While the US, Europe and the rest of the world was celebrating New Year’s Eve Y2K, I was in a room at Missouri Baptist Hospital preparing to say goodbye to one of the most important people in my life–my grandmother.
She had a remarkable life, and consistently over the years, many friends and strangers glimpsed what we–her family–knew so well about her. My treasured memories of her are as a “cool grandmother.” She bought a new emerald green Firebird when she was 70 (which she reluctantly let me drive), and she took me to see my first rock concert (The Who) at SIU-Edwardsville.
But she was also cool because she was the only grandmother I knew who was a college graduate (UCLA-Class of ’27) and for many years a corporate executive at Famous Barr, at a time when you didn’t see many women with their own offices on the 12th floor.
There was no word “retirement” in her vocabulary. Bernice understood the importance of having projects, a purpose, and she strove to make her work matter. When Famous’ mandatory retirement policy forced her out at age 65, the company turned around and immediately hired her back as a consultant for 3 more projects lasting 12 more years.
When most grandmothers would have then happily retired to a leisurely life of baking cookies, cooking homemade stew and tending grandchildren (which she also excelled in), mine accepted an offer to be part of the new family business. At age 78, she became the Director of Commercial Sales, her third full-time career, and the job she held till she was 90.
But this career lady was not all business. Living for her was about learning and doing. It is still one of life’s great mysteries to me how effortlessly she combined family, work, friends and passions. At 83, she and 2 friends enrolled in a ballroom dance class. She loved the arts and nature and knew every bird species, tree, shrub and flower at the Botannical Gardens.
Bernice Kranson (or Gegey, as we called her) was a Cardinals baseball fanatic who kept (former Centerfielder) Willie McGee’s baseball card in her wallet before it was fashionable to love him. She went to about 20 games a year, even though the last 2 were in a wheel chair.
My grandmother loved to shop through mail order. (I have no doubt she’d be teaching the other seniors in her building how to shop online today.) She supported so many worthy causes with generous donations that she received bundles of the best direct mail, which she let me confiscate for my direct marketing research. In fact, I got one of my best lessons in target marketing from her. Her buying behavior skewed so “young” that she received a lot of “age inappropriate” offers.
At her funeral, the Rabbi quoted Leo Rosten:
“The purpose of life is not merely to be ‘happy’–
The purpose of life is to matter —
to be productive —
to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.
Happiness, then, in the ancient, noble sense,
means self fulfillment
and is given to those who use to the fullest
whatever abilities God or luck or fate has bestowed upon them.
Happiness lies in stretching to the farthest boundaries
of which we are capable the resources
of the hand, heart and spirit.
As we battle the challenges life is throwing our way right now, let’s remember who and what are really important to us. Then, let’s go out and “matter.” Our careers are not the only things in our lives, even though our careers are important to us. Don’t under-appreciate the lessons you’re learning now. Your participation in life–even if it’s a struggle to transition–your volunteering to help others, the ideas and experiences you share–all of it matters.