Grandmothers are treasured people. Especially in a matrifocal, Caribbean society like Trinidad and Tobago, you would be hard pressed to find anyone without pleasant childhood memories of their grandmothers rubbing their backs in the middle of the night when they were sick, or teaching them to knead dough to make fried bake or sweetbread.
My grandmother is over 80. She has four children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and every single one of them has lived in her house at some point or another, or experienced one of her Christmas lunches, or both.
In my lifetime, my Granny has taught me many things, but here are a few of the things that have especially stuck with me:
Eat what she cooks. She’s not feeding you poison
I am a very picky eater. I have always been. Even today, it would be easier for me to tell you what I don’t want to eat than what I do. My Granny was a big proprietor of growing her own food, and did not tolerate my dislike of all provisions and anything green (and yes, that includes callaloo; I still don’t touch the stuff.)
I spent many of hours of my childhood sitting alone at the table suffering over my last piece of dasheen or cassava. In short, even though, I still won’t eat the stuff, I know that she knew best, and that even though the food on my plate ‘looked slimy’ I ate it… and I’m not dead.
“Who doh hear go feel”
I got plenty licks when I was younger. Plenty PLENTY licks, and I don’t really regret it for a second. I am currently under the impression that corporal punishment has been outlawed (I’m not entirely sure whether or not I’m right), but I honestly think that it’s something that needs to be re-instituted. When I watch shows like ‘Wife Swap’ and ‘Super Nanny’, I am grateful that between my parents and grandparents, I have managed not to become one of the over-spoiled, materialistic snobs I see depicted on TV. My brother is always laughing at me because of my tendency to yell, “Nah, dat chile need a cut arse”, at the television.
There is a term that I learned while interning with the Judiciary last August: ‘reasonable correction’. In my opinion, there is a very clear distinction between abuse and discipline, and I learned that from my grandmother. To this day, all she has to do is pick up her switch, and my five-year-old cousin will quiver in fear.
Don’t Swallow Your Phlegm
I was ALWAYS sick as a child. Frankly it was my own fault. I couldn’t seem to understand the words “dry your hair before you go to bed”. As a result, I had constant colds and always had phlegm rattling around my chest.
I remember being told to get up and go ‘cough it up’ every time I made even a slight indication of discomfort. I now embrace things like Vicks and Buckley’s as necessary to my survival (and let’s not even talk about how much Vicks I used after I moved to Boston to study).
My grandmother is full of ‘old’ remedies like orange peel tea, and bush baths (the latter of which I thoroughly enjoyed at six years old), and I am convinced that her steamed plants did more for me than any prescription ever could.
Make Your Bed. It makes the Whole Room Look Better
I learned how to make my bed from my grandmother. After lots of supervised attempts, I eventually got it right. Though I will admit I have since decided that making beds is a waste of time, and is inherently uneconomical (after all, I’m just going to undo it all again at night), if my life depended on it, I could make a bed.
However, with the constant state of organized chaos that I find myself in, it still amazes me how much more put together any bedroom looks if the bed is made. Even now that I am studying abroad, I will admit that I have allowed myself the occasional delusion of ‘tidying my dorm room’ by making the bed. Hey, it works for me!
Learn to Sew
Thanks to my grandmother I can mend my own clothing. I can’t actually make anything, but I can reattach buttons, and stitch up holes, which is actually a very useful skill for a college student – especially when you start eating rubbish and gain lots of weight. *womp*
Don’t Argue. Period
My grandmother taught me that grandmothers are always right. Period. Talk back and risk a smack in the mouth.
In the last ten years or so, many of the elder members of my family have passed on. I didn’t personally know many of them, as they were extended family members who I didn’t see often. But having known my grandmother all my life, and recognizing the wealth of knowledge that she has to share with me and all the members of my family, I understand how important it is to value my aging family members. Soon, my siblings and our cousins will comprise the oldest generation of our family, and I would like to think that the wealth that of knowledge our grandmother passed on will continue on with us.
My grandmother is the leader of our family’s clan. She is the common thread that holds us all together. I treasure my grandmother unconditionally. I can only hope that others do as well.