Six years ago, it was a late Thanksgiving. I know because we celebrated it with my nana the same as we did every year, and my mom ordered the biggest cheesecake anyone had ever seen. After all, it was Thanksgiving, and it was also my nana’s birthday.
She turned 93.
She squeezed my hand so tight, alternating between laughing and crying while everyone sang terribly. It was the last time I heard her laugh or cry.
When I first started blogging, I wrote about my nana often. It only made sense, seeing as she was the catalyst behind this blog. After all, she picked up pennies.
While I write about her less, her impact lives on. She did more than pick up pennies and teach me how to spot spare change across a parking lot. She also left a rich legacy that I feel in my bones and my heart most days. Years ago, I penned a manifesto for my blog. It was a feeble attempt to both outline the purpose of this blog and endure another year without her.
As I watch the calendar page turn once more, I am struck by how the core of that manifesto stayed the same and by how much her legacy continues to influence me, years after her passing.
1. Pick up pennies.
I don’t need to pick up pennies anymore. I never did. My grandmother lived and died below the poverty line, so picking up pennies was a means to save, as much as it was anything else. She also picked up pennies–and nickels and dimes and a roll of quarters once!–because she loved to retell the moment of discovery. Plus, who doesn’t want to walk around feeling just a little bit luckier?
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2. $hit happens.
Moments can be utterly unexpected, and life can be just plain awful sometimes. My nana was no stranger to tragedy and heartbreak. She also understood that sometimes the only way out is through. She persevered. She also refused to sugarcoat things. Just the other week, I listened as my mom tried to buoy the spirits of her sister. “What did Mommy always say? ‘$hit happens and it happened to me.’ You’ll be fine.” It’s not exactly a Hallmark sentiment, but I do think it would make for a terrific cross stitch.
3. Treat others.
“Let’s go to McDonald’s. My treat.” It didn’t matter the time of year, she was always game to convince as many people as she could round up to pile in someone’s car and go out for ice cream. Vanilla cones or hot fudge sundaes with extra nuts. The only thing she delighted in more than dessert before dinner (she knew we’d all eat her cooking no matter what!) was when the cones were on special: 2/$1.
4. Get outside.
In her late 80s, she had her hip replaced. The doctor said she quite literally wore it out. She never drove once in her life. Instead, she rode the bus and walked. It wasn’t just the fresh air she craved (and I’m not quite sure how fresh the air ever was on the city’s northwest side). It was the people, the community. She wanted to be out and about, flitting from place to place, greeting everyone she knew and those she didn’t. At her funeral, I walked over to a small group of women I didn’t recognize. They were cashiers from her local grocery store who came to pay their respects.
5. Buy things you love.
More than the moments when the basilico in the garden goes to bolt, more than the times when I say sauce instead of gravy, my nana would be crushed to hear that I ever hesitated to spend on myself. She understood the value of dollar better than anyone. She could scrimp and save, fight and work. At a time when it was practically unheard of for women to work outside the home, she did. Widowed right after the war, she went to work and bought herself a home even when the bank did everything they could to deny her a mortgage. Because she understood money well, she knew that it wasn’t just for saving. Not always. A pair of shoes or a piece of costume jewelry. If she really couldn’t stop thinking about it, she would happily buy it.
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6. Think of others.
Part of why I never truly understood how little my nana had is because I still have yet to meet anyone that can hold a candle to her generosity. Food drives, coat drives, the collection plate on Sunday. She gave to it all. She would leave her home for weeks at a time, staying with my family to help raise me. Her own home, small as it was, was like a beacon in our family, welcoming everyone and anyone to stay for as long as they want or need. Some years, there were two or three generations of people sharing a one-bathroom house. She never batted an eye.
7. Balance your checkbook but don’t take the numbers to heart.
Anytime my nana would write me a check, I’d do my best not to cash it. Without fail, the phone would ring, so she could chide me once she’d discovered what I’d done. “You’re goofing up my numbers.” She loved her little blue checkbook, and she also understood that money is only money. It’s the sum of your days, not the sum of your bank account, that makes you who you are.
Why I Still Pick Up Pennies
I still pick up pennies because they matter. They make me smile, and they slow me down. At a time when it’s easier to just rush through life, picking up pennies reminds me of how things were and who my grandma was. They also remind me of who I am.
So Tell Me…What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a grandparent?