If we are lucky, we are able to grow up knowing family who are at least one generation older than our parents. I was that lucky. I was blessed enough to meet both of my grandmothers and feel their loving embrace. I was also blessed enough to know both of my grandfathers, even though it was only by hearing their voices on the phone. Now, there are definitely different degrees of how well I knew any of my four grandparents but I learned the most from each of my grandmothers. Actually, I learned the most from my maternal grandmother. I can say that I had a true relationship with Ms. Ramona Melendez, aka “Tata”. The five life lessons I learned from Tata that have helped to define who I was as a child and who I am as an adult are:
- Always help when you see your help is needed. Do not wait to be asked.
- There is a force of love greater than us. Let that guide you.
- Have integrity. Never say anything that is not truthful and never go back on your word.
- Strength is automatic, it’s instinctive, as long as you live a life filled with service, faith and good morals.
- Being well kept (always washing your hands, wearing clothes that are pressed, combed hair, clean face, etc.), while it doesn’t define you, eliminates a few distractions and keeps you focused.
My grandmother did not necessarily tell me anything that I listed above. I learned these all by example as I was growing up. My grandmother was always helping someone. She would travel from New Jersey to New York on buses and trains to help a blind friend get to and from the doctor, or she would cook extra food to bring to her neighbor or bus driver. She would even give you something from her house if you even mentioned it was pretty because well…I don’t know why exactly. She just did. Tata also had a little shrine in her closet where she would pray, read the bible and light candles. She knew, and still knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is guiding her journey here on Earth. With that, she taught me the importance of honesty. And through her selflessness, faith and moral integrity, I saw and still see the tremendous strength in this woman. Dementia or no, my grandmother still takes pride in personal hygiene because if you are well kept, you are ready to take on the day. Who can argue with that logic?
The fifth life lesson was actually the first life lesson Tata ever taught me. Honestly, I think it was the first one I ever consciously learned. It was the only one she ever said to me personally, eye-to-eye. Tata taught me how to be independent. My grandmother taught me that I am not defined by any person, any thought, or any object. She told me…
“You were born on this Earth naked and alone. You do not need anyone and especially not any man in your life to define you.”
She went on to say that “the only person you can trust in this world [more than God] is the woman who was there on that first day, your mother.” I cannot remember why she told me that. I don’t even think I was in high school yet. But I know that when Tata told me that, something changed inside of me. I felt empowered. I trusted that those words were the whole truth and they have been my guide through most of my life’s journey. I understand that maybe not all of what she said can be used to help guide others. We can’t all trust the woman who bore us, but I can and I thank my grandmother for letting me see that fact at such an early age. Some say I’m too independent. My husband says it’s me “trying to act tough”. My mother says that I keep things too secret with my independence. Either way, being independent allowed me to avoid that stereotype that so many girls have of men and looks defining their value. So good, bad or indifferent, I owe that to my grandmother and I am grateful.