Lessons from my grandmother

Last year a student said, “Y’know, Mrs. Gold, you quote your grandma a lot.”

Taken aback, I responded, “I do?”

“Yeah, yeah, at least once a week you begin with, “As my grandmother would say….”

He finished with, “...but I like it.”


My grandmother was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts on August 9, 1906. She was lovely, kind, gracious and stubborn……….in a lovely way of course. Although she died more than twenty years ago, I think of her almost every day, and yes, I guess I do start many a sentence with, “As my grandmother would say….”  In honor of her birthday, here are three lessons she taught me.

  1. Believe it or not, I was a shy child. (I know, I know….) My grandmother believed in good manners, and she was a great life coach long before that became a "thing"! As a mother and as a teacher, I remain impressed with her intentionality. She trained me how to have a polite conversation in the United Methodist Church. The conversation went something like this:

“Karen, can you say hello to Mrs. Buford?” (my grandmother pats my back reassuringly)

“Good morning, Mrs. Buford.” (Not just hello! Use her name! Look up!)

“How are you this morning?” smiled Mrs. Buford.

“I’m fine, thank you, and you?” (remember to say thank you and inquire about the other!)

“Just fine, dear.” (Mrs. Buford smiles approvingly)

“It was nice to meet you, Mrs. Buford.” (nods of approval all around)

Scripted, perhaps, but really helpful to this shy child. Scripted became habit and meeting new people became easier. As I remind my children, “Good manners cover a multitude of sins!”

2) My grandmother never met a stranger. Of course, as a child and certainly as a teenager, I sometimes found it annoying when I just wanted to get going already. She brought a warm familiarity to every encounter as if she already knew the person. Perhaps it was a new face at church or a waitress or Demoulas cashier or even someone down and out on the street. She could find the good in absolutely anyone and extended mercy and kindness. I can still hear her say,”Everyone has a story...if you listen.”

3)  When  I was pregnant with my second child, I worried, “How will I ever love another baby like I love my first?”  I can still see my gramma laughing a little and assuring me, “Oh, every baby brings his own love with him.” And of course, she was absolutely right! (Hello, Jeremy!) This has been true with new school years and new students and new colleagues or friends. “I couldn’t possibly love them like I love…….” Then I remember: love doesn’t run out.

A few days before her beautiful heart gave out, I visited my grandmother in the nursing home. I called her beforehand and asked her if she needed anything. Soon we were sharing a small order of fries from McDonald's and I was painting her fingernails. I had the privilege of being with her when she died, and a kind male nurse urged me to keep talking to her, “Hearing is the last sense…” Of course, I told her I loved her. When she died, my aunt turned to me and said, “You’ve just lost your biggest fan.” But I didn't lose her: love never runs out. Happy birthday, Grandma.


The First Ten Minutes of Class

Confessions of a Numbskull