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The Life Lessons My Gramma Taught Me That I Carry With Me

A look back at my grandmother's impact in honor of National Grandparents Day.

Photo courtesy of Alison Murray.

My grandmother was always the first one up in the morning, but I made sure I was always the second. When I visited her and my grandfather as a child, I slept in a small room right next to their bedroom, so I would hear Gramma when she awoke. I would listen to her footsteps sending small creaks through the floorboards as she headed downstairs. After a few minutes lapsed, I would join her in the kitchen. Even though it was often still dark outside, the low ceilinged room was always bright and cheery. She was a prodigious baker, cook, and preserver, so there was always a project in the works.

After I devoured breakfast and the funny pages, she would put me to work–shucking corn, shelling peas, whatever–because food was one of the many ways she shared her love with those she loved. These days, I take my own pleasure from making my son breakfast and cooking dinner for my wife and me.

Gramma was always ready to welcome guests into her home to enjoy her handiwork in the kitchen and her skill as a hostess. There was a seemingly endless stream of family members, friends, and my grandfather’s business acquaintances who came by for meals. Though their attendance was sometimes last-minute, she always made room for them at their large dining room table, saw they had enough to eat, and exhibited nothing but gracious hospitality. I learned a lot from watching her welcome people into her home, and I’ve tried to make sure that anyone who visits ours feels similarly welcome.

My grandmother consistently reinforced the idea that you should be polite and warm with everyone you interacted with throughout your day–from the cashier at the corner store and the postman to your neighbor and the kid who comes by selling candy bars to raise money for his school. Everyone deserved a smile and civility, a rule I constantly strive to follow.

Up until her death, Gramma was a faithful correspondent, regularly sending me letters and holiday cards. I was always touched when I received her missives, knowing she had taken time out of her busy life to write to me. It imprinted the idea that you should always make the effort to regularly connect with those you love, even if you can’t do it in person. And no matter how far technology takes us, there’s sometimes nothing better than a handwritten note. I keep a box full of carefully chosen cards in my office so I can keep in touch with those I love, mark their special occasions, and offer condolences at times of need.

These days, I’m usually the first one up in the morning. For a couple of hours, I have the house to myself. Slowly, the world fades from dark to light. It’s during these times I miss my grandmother the most, but in that quiet solitude I am reminded of the example she set and what I must always strive to do in order to honor her.

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.