Friday, August 24, 2012


Nanny's Rules

If you had ever had the chance to meet my maternal grandmother (known to all of us kids as "Nanny," ) you would know that the list shown here is woefully incomplete.  Nan had rules for EVERYTHING! But one day long ago I sat down and distilled them into a top-ten list of things I wanted to be sure to teach my kids and grandkids.

Let me explain the list.

Each day, she once told me, you needed to focus on the basics.  You never know how many more days you're going to get. You never know when someone dear to you might be unexpectedly taken away. (A lesson we all understood when my sister died in an automobile accident) You never know when your path may be changed by chance-- for good or ill. You never know when the next blessing or challenge might be right around the corner. So you have to do the right thing every day. 

Save Something- Put away some money, even if it is only a few pennies, for a rainy day. Repair something rather than throwing it away. Use last nights leftovers creatively. Preserve a special moment in pictures or words. Make a memory. Clip a coupon. Do something each day to save time, resources, or moments.   

Discard Something - We live our lives surrounded by so much "stuff"... and a lot of it isn't necessary or even good for us. Get rid of the things-- physical or otherwise-- that you don't need or want in your life.  Take out the trash, of course, and get rid of the day to day physical clutter, but also get rid of grudges, prejudices, fears, misconceptions and worries that drag you down, too.  

Give Something Away - When I was a kid, this meant "share your cookies with someone because it is good manners" As I became an adult, it meant realizing that we, as a family and as individuals, were far more fortunate than many, many people in many ways-- and that that good fortune came with a responsibility.  So the giveaways became traditional donations of goods and money, and of time and services. But I am in Phase 3 of my life now-- the age my Grandmother was when she taught me these things-- and I think there is even yet another dimension to this lesson of hers. I think it means that, in addition to cleaning out my wardrobes a couple of times a year and writing checks to various charities, and the like, it means making sure there are tiny gifts of kindness and respect and, yes, manners-- sprinkled throughout my day. A genuine thank you to a server in a restaurant or clerk in a shop, an elevator or door held for someone with their hands full, letting someone ahead of me in a line... and, sometimes, just a smile or a word of encouragement-- a gift given freely, of little cost, that maybe, just maybe, gives someone else the smallest moment of happiness or comfort or encouragement.

Remember Something - This is another rule that has changed for me over time.  When I was a kid, I needed to remember my assignments, my mittens, my spelling words, etc.  In Phase 2, it was remember my friends' and family's birthdays and anniversaries, my appointments, the phone number of the doctor's office, the name of the store that sold the shoes that my son liked best, and the like. In Phase 3, I have technology to remind me of dates and places, and I find myself remembering moments instead. Sweet ones, sad ones, funny ones, frightening ones, ordinary ones that didn't seem important at the time. Sitting at the kitchen table in Atlantic City with my grandfather, eating toasted raisin bread with unsalted butter. Playing Scrabble with my sister. The night I fell asleep on the couch and woke up to find a burglar in my apartment. Sitting in my parents' condo talking to my Dad about the movie Schindler's List. First kisses....last kisses.  We are nothing without our histories. The trick is to learn something from the events in our lives.

Forget Something - This one hasn't changed.  I knew what she meant then, and it still makes sense now. Forget petty hurts. Forget the sting of failures. Forget misunderstandings. Give life- and the other guy, as well as yourself--- the benefit of the doubt once in a while. It is not worth ruining your day (or someone else's) over the fact that someone cut you off in traffic, or said something insensitive.

Learn Something New - You don't need to take up a new language or instrument (but wouldn't that be fun if you did?) sometimes it's just learning a new word, a new recipe, a new route home from the grocery store, trying an unfamiliar food, learning the name of that pretty flower in your neighbor's garden... but challenge yourself, always to expanding your knowledge and understanding of the world. People who think they know it all are really boring and annoying to be around.

Read Something - My grandmother had a tough early life, and not the best formal education, but she always read-- newspapers, magazines (and, unlike Sarah Palin, could name more than a few!) and whatever books were around and being talked about.  My Dad loved legal and crime thrillers, and I have fond memories of her reading whatever she found and carefully replacing his bookmarks before he got home from work so he wouldn't know she'd been reading them.  Today, I live with a Kindle in my handbag 365 days a year.

Write Something -  I'm not sure if this was one of her universal rules, or one she created for me and my siblings, but she was convinced that each of us had something to say, and should say it in writing. She would probably be thrilled by the fact that all three of the remaining sibs have been published as adults. She firmly believed in handwritten letters and thank you notes, and presided over many Christmas and birthday thank you sessions. I can still see her sitting at the dining room table with my sister "helping" her write thank you notes for wedding shower gifts. She loathed the "depressing poetry crap" I wrote in high school and college, but strutted like a peacock when I made the literary mag. She started me on my lifelong habit of putting my thoughts in writing in diaries, journals, and, yes, this blog. While she probably wouldn't care too much for the technical stuff I write, I have a feeling she would have bent an ear or two at the church senior center telling them that I write "some computer stuff about accounting software." (Which is how my mother -- incorrectly--described my job to HER friends.)

Work on Conquering Fear or Doubt - This sounds more high-minded and touchy-feely than Nan really was.  She had very little patience with cowards or (as she called them) "worryworts."  She would say, "I never had the luxury of time to worry about stuff all that much-- there were things that needed to be done, and I had to do them. Didn't matter if I was afraid, I had to do it anyway.  It was the Depression, I had 2 kids to feed, and no family to help me. I just did what I needed to do. So, pull up your socks and get on with it. Nobody's gonna do it for you!"  Not exactly motivational poster material, but knowing that she had faced tougher situations with fewer resources and come out on top has often given me the push to step out of my comfort zone.

Remember to say "Thank You" twice as often as you say "Please" - Manners were, and always will be, important. My Dad used to call them a "social lubricant and a business requirement." Nanny wasn't quite as elegant, and a great deal more direct. "Nobody OWES you anything, so you'd better be thankful when they do things for you," was more her style. "People will forgive honest mistakes, but not forget bad manners."

So, that's the top 10. There were others, like "Value your female friends, because they're the ones who will be with you in old age." but those are topics for another day

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