What my grandmothers taught me

Mary McKenzie White

Mary McKenzie White

I’m pretty lucky that for for the first few years of my life I had 2 grandmothers and 3 great-grandmothers living. Of course, that number has dwindled, and I sadly lost my Grandma (White) late last year. Now, my Gran (Sinclair) is the last of the strong and amazing and loving women who helped shape me and my family.

My grandmothers and great-grandmothers came from an era when certain qualities were valued. These qualities sound a bit quaint and old-fashioned today, but they are no less admirable. In fact, they are something to aspire to, and here is how my grandmothers brought these qualities to life:

Fortitude – Grandma’s father was an Anglican minister, and as they were moving into the house at his latest church posting, he fell off a ladder and died.  My grandma was just 10, when her widowed mother was booted out of the church-owned rectory, with 4 children to house and feed on her own.  My great-grandmother did a phenomenal job raising her family, proving that fortitude is all about taking the curveballs – and throwing them back to the pitcher with a steady hand.

Steadfastness – This is an ability to stick with someone or something, over many years, with little complaint; and it’s in short supply today. In a world of no-fault divorce, instant gratification and endless choice, it’s easy to move on. Which is not to say we should hang around being unhappy in a situation; but sometimes staying the course has its benefits. For my grandmothers, who clocked up a lifetime with their husbands, and cared for ailing parents over many years, steadfastness helped them face the uncertainties of life.

Thrift – I was helping my Gran in her kitchen a while ago, and some of the utensils were older than me; many were in fact past their prime. Yet  it hasn’t occurred to Gran to replace them. My Poppa is a dab hand in the garage, so things in that house get fixed, not replaced. You don’t buy anything new until the old version is definitely broken. Tomato seeds get kept and dried for next year’s planting. Buckets collect your wastewater while you shower, and water those tomatoes. It’s a way of living that’s kinder to both the earth and the wallet.

Courage – My great-grandmother (the one I never met) spent the first 15 years of her life in Britain, then arrived in Victoria in 1922. Her only family here was her father, who bought a farm that she she helped run. Isolated and out of her element, she spent 10 yearning and lonely years there. When the opportunity came to leave, with the man who became my great grandfather, she took it. Yes, she eloped. The decision must have been heart-rending and terrifying all at once. But in the letter she wrote to her father when leaving, she describes her life as being ‘buried alive’ – she was desperately unhappy and made a huge decision to change her life. A decision that resulted in four children and a long marriage.

There are so many, many things we can learn from the women before us – whether we meet them or not. But only if we open ourselves to the lessons they have to teach.

By Belinda Thomson (nee White)

This post was written as part of the Grandmother Power project run by Tara Sophia Mohr. Check it out!

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  1. From Brigitte – for once I read a blog because I never have never had a living grandmother during my lifetime and I always feel a bit cheated about that. I can only judge from the unconditional love my mother gave Mark, and remember clearly his sad comment when Mum died – “I have just lost the only person in the world who loved me unconditionally.” Grandmothers are indeed a treasure.

  2. Beautiful Bo. This brought a tear to my eye thinking of my grandmothers and their qualities of endurance, good manners and making the best of everything.

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