5 Life Lessons from My Grandma

Though alma mater is reserved almost-exclusively for one’s high school or undergrad, I choose to use its literal meaning, “nourishing mother”, to describe my grandma, who passed away this time last year. As I crawl out of my cenote-deep grief, I’ll share some of my grandma’s 94 years of wisdom.

“We had fun, but we didn’t dissipate.”
When my grandmother and her sister hit the streets of Harlem in the ’40s, they were dressed to the nines as they rubbed shoulders with Joe Louis and Sarah Vaughn. Despite the fun they had, they knew when to say when. And that was her key to looking amazing at 94.


“Keep something in reserve for yourself.”
As I worked on my grandma’s eulogy and my family shared stories about her, I saw how many people she cared for. When she saw me thrust into caregiving and aiding a loved one to the point of exhaustion, she consistently emphasized the importance of rest. The fancy new term for it is “self care”.

This advice applied to women specifically. As women we are basically groomed to give every part of ourselves to the world. My grandma thought it would benefit us to substitute a little selflessness with a little selfishness. In short: Don’t be a dayum hero all the time.


“Kool-Aid tastes icky without sugar.”
Growing up in the ‘80s, my mom was a Jane Fonda convert who believed in Kool-Aid without sugar, steamed vegetables with a “pat” of butter, and boring whole wheat bread. I was team #WonderBread. A visit to my grandma’s meant: Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid, hand-cut french fries, apple-peach cobbler, and cheeseburgers that (truly!) tasted better than McDonald’s burgers.


“You may get knocked down, but you don’t roll over. You get up and fight!”
My grandma was a spitfire. And considering she lived through a lifetime of race, gender, and socio-economic challenges, she embodied strength of character and the power of womanhood.

She was always so happy seeing my friends’ and my successes (and mentored us through our challenges). She experienced so much in life, sharing her wisdom—and dance skills—all the time. Even when she was bound to a walker, she’d bust a move.


“Wash under your bust. It can develop an odor.”
I specifically remember the times my grandma gave me a bath when I was little. As she lovingly cleaned my ears, she told me that one day I’d develop breasts and I must remember to clean under my bosom. Because well, stank happens.