It was a warm Tuesday night, four or five years ago, and I was outside a convenience store drinking the Gatorade I had just bought. As I often did that summer, I was participating in the Philadelphia skate club’s weekly Rollerblade through the city. We were about halfway through the skate and on a drink break.
I knew I had about ten minutes, so I gave my 85-year-old grandma, Nanny, a call to check in.
When she heard my voice, she said, “Brad, I’m so happy you called. I have some important information to share.”
She paused and then continued.
“I think your underwear is too tight. That’s why you’re having trouble having babies.”
I was surprised (to say the least) and unsure of what to say.
“Thanks, I’ll wear looser underwear,” I eventually replied.
It was amazing that my proper and elegant grandma, in her mid-80s, offered this suggestion, which I think was pretty far out of her comfort zone (and mine, too, by the way). A perfect example of why grandparents are so awesome.
Nanny taught my relatives and me many life lessons. Between her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, there are about 40 of us. What we all remember about her is so similar that it provides some lessons about what we can do to make a difference and an impact on others’ lives.
- Have fun. At one point, I had this crazy idea of creating a family tree with each member of our family shown in a Karate pose. At the time, my 80-something year-old grandma thought it was an excellent idea, so she enthusiastically posed while I took photos. Why not try to make everything fun and go along with ideas from your goofy relatives?
- Every little bit helps. In the early days of starting my company, things were sometimes rough. Through it all, Nanny sent me coupons for restaurants – usually Boston Chicken. She always wrote, “I wanted you to have this, because every little bit helps.” Nanny’s actions showed that she was always thinking of us. Remembering this made me recently decide that I’m going to start sending packages of stickers to some of our young relatives every few months – just because.
- family traditions matter. At Nanny’s house we always had lamb chops, shell noodles and brownies. I still love that meal. I also remember it, because it was a tradition.
We were all measured regularly on her closet door, which had marks for our heights over the years. Everyone loves that door. Make your own traditions – even small ones. (Here’s a story about a toddler that inspired 65,000 other families to start a tradition of having banana split sundaes for breakfast once a year.)
- It’s good to spoil your loved ones once in a while. We always got two juices and extra sandwiches and snacks when she made our school lunches. One cousin mentioned that Nanny would send her letters and put $5 in with them “just because.” When we went away on vacation and came back, our refrigerators would be filled – compliments of Nanny. It’s the extra little touches that matter.
- The entire family counts.My wife once started receiving Martha Stewart Living magazine. We had no idea why until months later, when Nanny told me she got it for Mia because she noticed that Mia loved to cook and craft.
I used to call Nanny regularly. When I went away on business trips, Nanny would call Mia just to make sure she was okay. My cousin-in-law’s parents once mentioned that they received the nicest notes in the mail from Nanny.
Our family became her family.
- Be there. She said she knew running a business could be really hard, and I should tell her if I ever needed help. I don’t know what she would have done if I’d needed her, but I know she would have done something. She offered and she meant it.
- Advice from grandparents, and perhaps anyone who isn’t your parents, is great (since we, of course, know so much more than our parents). I got lessons on how babies are made (if I didn’t have any, I must need help), and my female cousins got lessons on boys. When Katy got married, Nanny said, “Don’t feel nervous about having sex on your wedding night. I was nervous for my first time, but then I just told myself, ‘If the queen of England can do it, you can do it too!'” (I also love that Nanny thought we were all so innocent.) To Betsy, she said, “Sometimes you need to date a creep so you can check out the crop.” Conversations we’ll never forget.
- Pay attention to the details. When Jewish boys are born they have a circumcision ceremony called a bris. I once served as the photographer at a bris for a friend’s son, and watching (let along snapping photos) was unbearable. Yet, Nanny always sat up front for each grandson’s bris to make sure she could “stop the rabbi” if he was making a mistake.
- Everyone is special.When I worked for Microsoft (MSFT), Nanny cut out every newspaper article that mentioned MSFT, and she underlined every mention of MSFT in the article, so I wouldn’t miss it. I got stacks of articles every week (at one point she read three newspapers). I read all of the clippings – how could I not, when she went through so much effort? Twice the clippings gave me answers I otherwise wouldn’t have had when the head of our division asked me questions.
Better yet, when we were all talking about our memories of Nanny at her recent memorial service, all of the grandkids mentioned the personal clippings she sent. Before this, I had tried not to mention mine, because I thought I was the only one to get them. As my cousin Richard said, “There were 40 of us, and every one of us thought we were her favorite.”
When my family tells stories about Nanny, and when I think back to life lessons from my Popop Al, and my other amazing grandparents, one thing stands out: no stories are about work or about the fact that someone got a car or giant gift. Always, the stories are about the lives touched, the kindness done, the fun we had, and the little things that were really the big things. Something important that I’ll try to keep in mind as I make my own family memories– along with ensuring that all of my underwear is at least a size too big.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like, 7 Easy Ways You can be a Better Person as well as 80 Random Acts of Kindness that Will Make You an Everyday Hero.