Things My Grandmother Taught Me


I come from a Polish family. And by “Polish” I’m talking straight-off-the-boat-Polish, not had-one-vodka-drinking-ancestor-at-some-point-Polish. To give you an idea, I didn’t learn English until kindergarten, no meal was complete without beets or potatoes, and every room in my parents’ house had (and still has) at least five pictures of the Virgin Mary. I nearly got ostracized from the family when I went vegetarian in middle school and still don’t understand the point of an Easter basket. That Polish.
The biggest plus about my Polish upbringing — besides having avoided cable TV and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches all my life — was being raised by my grandmother, who moved to the US to take care of me when my parents were gone. This is a woman who was a single mother in a time when being one was sacrilegious, a blue-eyed blonde who spoke enough flirty German to rescue her father from the march to Majdanek, who sawed her own stilettos in half because her young daughter wanted a pair of heels and who risked falling out of trees far into her 70s because she wanted to hang birdhouses. I have never met a tougher lady, and here are the most important things she taught me.

It’s better to be young and stupid than old and stupid. As a woman who was forced to grow up too fast, my grandmother could never understand why anyone would complain about being young. But these days it’s like we need to apologize for it, like youth is an ailment that needs to be cured as fast as possible and some of us can’t trade in our flasks for spice racks soon enough. Well screw that. You obviously can’t learn anything if you don’t make any mistakes, and you have the rest of your life to “know better.” How can you know better if you never knew worse?

You can’t expect to be completed. My grandmother never fell in love and it wasn’t the worst thing. At a time when women were considered to be nothing without men, she chose to raise my mom on her own rather than husband-hunt after two failed marriages. The practical lesson? Going through life reaching for your other half only makes you half a person. You’ll never feel complete until you realize that you are enough.

Things are not that bad. You think your arms are too flabby? Well at least you have arms. You have a dead end job? On the upside, you’re not starving broke. And so on. Besides the whole “appreciate what you have” thing, if you really hate something, make a move to change it. If you hate it just enough to complain but not to actually do anything, do the rest of the bar a favor and shut your mouth.

Family is the most important thing. Anyone who loves you, has your back and is right there with you when things get real is family, and these are the people you have to take care of. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your family is always going to be blood — human bonds are stronger than biology.

Jager makes it better. Medicinally, emotionally, cosmically, Jagermeister is, was, and always will be my grandmother’s cure-all. I used to hate this when I was a kid but since I took her advice to treat stomachaches with her magic formula (shot of Jager followed by peppermint tea), I’ve never had a stomach problem I couldn’t fix. Stomach virus? Jager. Ate too much? Jager. Hangover? Jager. Seriously, that herbal liqueur is good for so much more than getting blackout. Besides, how can you not trust a woman who’s lived to be 88 on a diet of bread, sugar and Jager? 88 and counting.

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image – Hawkins