When I told my brother that I started a blog, he said that it made sense because our grandmother was a writer. I knew that she was quite the letter writer but I had no idea that she was a writer writer. I do remember hearing stories when I was younger about her writing letter after letter to certain people in high political offices and actually being asked to stop writing altogether because it was just too much for them to handle. I don’t think I can say too much about it, but I’m willing to bet that the jellybean consumption in a certain house hit an all time high when her letters started rolling in. My grandmother was kind of gangster. I found out in the same conversation with my brother that she had an article published in the U.S. News & World Report in the 60’s. Whoa. It’s alarming how little I know of my family’s history. It’s not for lack of questioning it, I just think people back then were more concerned with scraping by and surviving and less concerned with communication and, like, talking to their kids and grandkids.
If you have living grandparents, I highly recommend chatting with them and seeing if they’re willing to disclose any stories from their pasts. Document them if you can. History informs the future, right? There’s a small part of me that wishes I would’ve known certain facts about my grandmother sooner, but then I might not be where I am right now and I am exactly where I know I need to be. History informs the future but it does not dictate it.
My mom told me only a couple of years ago that when my grandmother moved to a new town, she opened a cafe without any money and without any food! She asked the owner of the grocery store next door if she could “borrow” some things and pay him back at the end of the day with the money she earned. He said yes and off she went with bread and butter and milk, etc, to make breakfast and lunch. She paid him in full at closing time and bought what she needed for the next day and the day after that. She was kind of a bad ass huh? My mom also told me that I have that same “pioneering spirit” in me but, I normally don’t feel that way. Probably because I have the luxury not to. I live in a time of ultimate convenience, a reality in which I get to choose how I feel and whether or not I want to be a pioneer on any given day. She didn’t have that luxury. She grew up during the great depression and had to take care of her family from an early age. Her circumstances forced her into a leadership role and she didn’t question it because there was no time to question anything, there was work to be done. So she quit school and cooked, cleaned, sewed, washed, raised her siblings and took care of her mother all with a polio-affected leg and eventually a mangled hand (ice shaver accident). We all do what we have to do to survive, but it is definitely easier nowadays than it was ninety years ago. We really do take things for granted, don’t we?
Just like you and me, she was a flawed human. She was a product of her environment and upbringing and she had some very definite ideas and opinions about how things should go. A lot of those ideas and opinions were not in alignment with my own and I remember telling her so on occasion. There was a small spark of her spunkiness in me even then lol. By the time I came into the world, she was already well into her fifties and very set in her ways. I loved her and spent a lot of time with her but I wouldn’t say we were super close. Like I said, people back then didn’t really engage kids in meaningful and informative conversation. I’m grateful to be learning new information now, but I think I would’ve loved hearing some of her and my grandfather’s stories firsthand.
So far it seems like this is an entire post about my grandmother but, alas, it is not. Although I will circle back to her at some point. She was the inspiration I needed to write about a subject that has fascinated me for a long time. I’ve thought a lot over the years about nature vs nurture and talking about my grandmother really kicked it back up to the front burner for me. It’s an old debate centering on whether human behavior is determined by genes or environment. I personally believe it’s both. It just doesn’t make sense to me that it would be one or the other. That doesn’t mean that it’s sliced right down the middle, though. I picture a pendulum, swinging back and forth between the two, landing closest to the one that my brain needs at that moment to help me make the best decision. Sometimes (most of the time) it serves us to listen to that little voice whispering deep inside, the one that’s been there from the beginning. Sometimes it serves us to listen to the voice in our head, the one that’s been programmed to think a certain way and react accordingly. I say that it serves us “most of the time” to listen to the little voice inside because that’s our nature, the programming that we’re all born with, like factory settings for humans. I think this is the voice that usually guides us in the right direction whether we realize it in the moment or not. The programming we get from our family, environment and circumstances is our nurture and can sometimes guide us down a path that is in direct opposition to our nature. Not intentionally, of course. I don’t think parents are “trying” to harm their children in any way. They’re teaching them what they think is best from their perspective and a lot of the time this works out for everyone involved. Where it can become a little tricky is when parents don’t bother getting to know their kids as individuals and don’t pay much attention to who they really are at their core.
Ok, here’s some deep water. I did not think I’d get so personal so fast but I feel as if I’ve known you forever and that you won’t judge me for being honest. I mean, it’s the internet so I’m safe sharing my thoughts, right? Awesome.
I was one of those kids. I was nurtured within an inch of my life but my parents never really “knew” me. Just like almost every parent on the planet, they did the absolute best they could with what they had to offer and I have no business being anything but grateful to them for my relatively happy childhood. Having said that, they instilled in me certain thoughts and ideas that I just felt in my bones weren’t right for me. I’ve been trying to find peace about it for many years and I get closer all the time. Jesus I sound so emo.
Anyway, I realized at some point that what I had been doing my whole life was nurturing my nurturing. Meaning I was leaning in to all the things my family, environment and circumstances were teaching me and reacting to life through that filter. But it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t listening to me. I wasn’t leaning in to the voice deep inside that was always there, but being ignored. I can honestly say that if you’ve been around me in person during specific periods of my life, you weren’t getting the real me. You were getting this filtered caricature of an unhappy girl who just couldn’t figure it out. Don’t get me wrong, I think I was still nice and caring and loving, I just didn’t have the emotional intelligence or articulation to register what was really happening and respond positively. I am eternally grateful to the people who knew me then and were patient and kind with me even when I was a royal fuck up (I also vividly remember the people who were unkind and cruel to me, and to them I send my thoughts and prayers ??).
I lived a fair amount of my life that way until about thirteen years ago, when something was triggered in me and my entire life did a 180. I started nurturing my nature. I started leaning in to the voice inside that was guiding me down pathways I had never imagined but felt sooo good to take. I took what I needed from my nurturing, but that was no longer my lighthouse. Doing what I “felt” was right instead of what I was “taught” was incredibly freeing. Feeling liberated is intoxicating and I sincerely hope you all get to feel that way if you don’t already. It’s life-altering to respond to situations with “my” voice, not the voice I was given by people who didn’t know me. There was something very restorative about the process and I started feeling like I was finally becoming who I was meant to be all along. I am still in this process and will be until my dance card is punched. But at least now I know that when I speak, it’s my voice that’s heard, and it’s coming from a very heartfelt place of good intentions and positive purpose.
What does all this have to do with grandma? Well, she could’ve given up at any point in her life but she never did. She was scrappy and she fought hard to provide and survive. She did all that because it was just in her nature to do it. She never let anyone tell her who she was or what to think. She didn’t always get it right but that never stopped her from doing it anyway and doing it her way. She was a pioneer when women weren’t commonly allowed to be. She’s a familial reminder that her pioneering, surviving blood is in me, and if I keep listening to my little voice, and keep nurturing my nature, I can be a bad ass, too. It runs in the family.