Lord knows nana Nellie wasn’t a looker.
At 40 she looked 70. She was always old.
Nana was the “custodian.” at my Brooklyn, New York public school.
Custodian: Fancy word for janitor.
It embarrassed me how she cleaned toilets.
I would look to avoid her in the halls.
As I get older, I realize the impression she made on me.
Grandma’s life lessons.
1). Screw Stereotypes – Nana loved people for who they were, not their appearances. She would provide food to families at the school who were having difficult financial times and hold fundraisers for the less fortunate. And she was one of the less fortunate.
2). Be Nurturing to Children – Nellie would dress as Santa every year, walk down school halls and hand out pounds of candy to the kids. They loved her. I was so embarrassed. Odd. Imagine someone dressed as Santa delivering candy at a public school today? That is grounds for dismissal or perhaps – arrest.
3). Be Proud of Who You Are – Nana was nana. She dressed like crap but had a heart of gold. She would wear this hideous battleship gray and white school uniform that made her appear more matronly than she really was. I rarely saw her dress stylishly. And people could care less. Neither did she.
4). Make a Killer BLT – Nana was a good cook but her BLTs were something to die for. I know her secret to a mind-blowing BLT sandwich and will take it to the grave.
5). Smile & Say Hello – Nellie’s bedroom window faced a busy street. One of her favorite pastimes was to sit there and watch the people go by. She always would call out a hearty hello and smile. Even when people didn’t return the courtesy.
6). Save, Save, Save – Grandma was a Depression baby. Nothing went to waste. She wasn’t a hoarder, but found a use for everything. My grandfather abhorred how she would have him pull over because she would notice a salvageable treasure in a neighbor’s garbage, out by the curb. One year she found the coolest red wooden Santa’s sleigh complete with ornate wooden carved reindeer. We dragged it ten blocks to her house.
7). Forgive Your Kids – My dad was always out with some hot girl two decades younger than him. He would tell grandma he was coming by and not show. Or he would cancel on her for a hot date. She would shake her head and say “that’s my Benny!” smile and move on. She told me once – “you can’t control what others do. Only what you do.”
8). Encourage – Grandma was always telling me I could do what I want. I was smart enough. I could attend college. She had owned multiple businesses in the 1950s – A laundromat, a delicatessen. It was rare then for a woman to take the bull by the horns. I think unfortunately, grandpa killed her spirit so she relented a bit and gave up the businesses.
9). Be a Good Friend – Nellie was loyal and loved her friends. And she had many. She was there to listen, support, engage.
10. Today is Everyday – I believe this was nana’s shot at philosophy. She wasn’t educated, yet she was wise. This life lesson is still the most challenging for me – If I talked about my future or I was frustrated by my situation Nellie would advise me to make the best of it, learn from the experience.
Then give me a hug.
And a BLT.
On occasion, a hug, a sandwich (made with love) and a memory is all you need.
To get by.
To make it through the school of life.