My grandmother used to give me all kinds of advice. She would tell me to “talk plain and speak up so that others could hear what I said.” She also told me not to “let my britches get too big because sooner or later they’d bust.” Or my all-time favorite saying was, “don’t get your tailfeathers in a tizzy.” The woman may have been born in 1902, but she left an impression upon me that I carry with me to this day. In her case, she wanted me to treat others with kindness and never feel that I was better than anyone else. She would always remind me that “we can’t take material things with us when we leave,” and there is a lot of wisdom in that statement.
She was a farmer. Getting up at 3 or 4 am was nothing for her. She’d rise early and have half a day’s work done by 8. She’d always tell me that the day was wasting and that sleeping my life away was not going to get the crops in any faster. I remember shelling peas and snapping beans, picking the pumpkins and cantaloupe, eating watermelon in the field, and picking fresh strawberries. She reminded me that we are all part of the earth, and if we take care of the earth, it will help provide for us. We had to tend the land, plant the seeds, keep the weeds out, keep the crops watered, and give land love. In return, we received a bounty of vegetables and fruits that we could can and preserve for years.
I remember making blackberry jam with her. She made her buttermilk biscuits from scratch, and while they never came out as big and fluffy as restaurants, they melted in my mouth. The texture was flaky with a touch of butter. Each biscuit that baked cooked in a wood fire stove, the wood that my grandmother picked out of the yard, helped keep the oven going. Those were simpler times, but the message still rings true today.
We take so much for granted. If the pandemic taught me anything, we have become dependent on stores to carry what we need. We’ve wanted to develop farmland into homes and take less and less consideration of what it takes to keep the supply up with the demand. Life has to have balance. Without balance, the scales will tip and not always in a direction we desire.
I walk on the farm that my grandmother bequeathed to my mom. I still see the tillers that she used. The blisters from her hands were trying to steer a tiller almost twice as big as she was. I see my father chopping wood with the ax and remember him handing me the ax and letting me cut that wood to my heart’s content. I was in better shape then than I am now. I feel the presence of my ancestors on that land. I even recognize the importance of preservation. While I don’t want to be considered too conservative, I am acutely aware that land destroyed is to make room for new development, the less land there is for wildlife and preservation.
Everywhere I look on the property, I see memories. People that affected my life in positive and negative directions are visible in my mind, even though they have passed on. I still feel my Dad’s presence with me every day and have to listen to tapes or recordings that have his voice, or I won’t recall how he sounded.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a preacher’s kid. My Dad had several different careers. He was a nursing home administrator as well as a Certified Financial Planner. He was a good man that helped a lot of people manage to save more for their retirement. Dad saw a need and was able to get the education to help fill those gaps. One night, he had me read some financial papers and asked me to recollect what I read. When I finished, he looked at me and said that many adults couldn’t comprehend what I understood. I couldn’t have been more than thirteen when this happened. The mind gets fuzzier the older I get.
I might have understood it as a kid, but I forgot the lessons he taught me about finances. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’m thriving again. I committed to continue my education. I’ve stopped wondering how to make positive changes and started pursuing those changes. It’s easy to talk about what we want, but it’s harder to follow through and make commitments.
My grandmother rarely dried her clothes in a dryer. Instead, she hung them on a clothesline and said there was no point in using energy when the Good Lord provided the sun and that the sun didn’t cost anything but a drier did. She penny-pinched hard because she had to. There is an assumption that farmers make a lot of money, but that isn’t always the case. Have you ever spoken to farmers? One bad storm can wipe out their crops. If their crops are wiped out, they are screwed. It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs that anyone can have. I attend a church where a lot of people are farmers. They have learned not to put all their eggs in one basket but make no mistake, those men, women, and their families are some of the hardest workers around. They understand that farming isn’t just planting in the dirt. It takes a lot of knowledge to know how a farm works. They are not dumb by any stretch of the imagination. If big corporate whigs spent more time discussing those crops with the farmers, they might find solutions to problems that the big shots are not even aware of in their companies.
I learned valuable lessons along the way that I still carry with me to this day. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that money is necessary, but it can’t and won’t provide complete happiness. The people I’ve had the pleasure of being affected by the most were the ones who struggled financially and were filled with contentment. There’s nothing wrong with being successful. The danger comes in letting an excess of wealth control your life and decisions. We all struggle in life. Helping each other is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
My family instilled in me the lessons that hard work was something to be proud of because we can look in a mirror and decide if we have done a good day’s work or not. Jobs and careers have evolved so much and finding honesty and integrity with people and businesses have become challenging. A person’s word is no longer their bond, even though it should be. Having pride used to be about feeling good about things. There are always exceptions to the rule.
Maybe it was the Easter holiday that reminded me of conversations that I’d had over the years. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my friend Alex while he told me that he had a dream of owning a juice truck. His talents were vast, and he wanted a change in his life. He struggled with relationships and battled severe depression, but our conversations will never leave my heart. He reminded me that I am a person of worth and never give up on my dreams. When he died, he had not even had his fortieth birthday yet. My heart sunk for his family when he died because he would never be able to create his family with a wife and children; his brother claims to be a people person and yet doesn’t understand how to handle people. There’s a darkness to his personality that is frightening.
My wish for all of you is that the people in your life that have left you with wise advice don’t forget them or the advice they gave. In the blink of an eye, our lives pass. Be grateful for those who left an imprint and tolerant of those who betrayed you. Not every friendship will endure a lifetime. People in your life will claim to be your friends but may only be a “fairweather” friend. They are the kinds of friends who sound like they are supporting you, but you have to all but beg for them to include in your life. They may hide behind excuses, and some of those excuses may be legit. Only you will be able to determine this information.
Since this is Tuesday, let me leave you with one more thought. If you can remember those that have passed, do something to honor them. You might write things in a journal or paint or draw something. You might create a song. You could even fix a meal that reminds you of them. Whatever you choose to do, use your gifts to remind the impact they left behind. After all, you are a part of their legacy. When the past is acknowledged, the keys to the future unlock. It might not always be the stories we want to hear, but the lessons we have all learned along the way help shape us into the people we become. Why not carry those lessons with us to change the world for the better? Keep things simple. Respect and love yourselves enough to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. Have a kind heart when someone struggles and shows others what it means to accept people for who they are and not what you think they should be.
I hope the memories you have are good ones and not ones that fill with pain. If those memories are painful, I hope you can find ways to create better memories for the future because we have no guarantees in this world. Keep pushing yourselves for a better future and carry the lessons of love with you no matter where you go. Have a great day, everyone.