About a month ago I visited my grandmother — Grammy — with my mom in Atlanta. For those of you who do not know her or haven’t heard me talk about her, Grammy is the best. We are thick as thieves, always ganging up against my mom for entertainment, bonding over our love of martinis and champagne. Mom always says she is the common enemy.
Such a beauty.
Grammy is the epitome of The Greatest Generation. Growing up on a rural farm in south Georgia during the Great Depression, she not only understands the meaning of a plastic fork budget, she lived it. Ever the optimist, Grammy considered herself one of the lucky ones: her parents Homer and Edna grew peanuts and tobacco as well as raised cows and chickens and always had food on the table. Grandmother Edna — I was born on her birthday — took care of her nieces and nephews every so often when their parents had no food to feed them.
On chilly winter nights Edna heated bricks by the fire, wrapped them in blankets and put them at the foot of Grammy and her siblings’ beds to warm their feet because they had no heat. Or air conditioning for that matter — the swelter of a south Georgia summer is the stuff nightmares are made of. While Edna was working at a factory during World War II and Homer tended to the farm, Grammy helped raise her brothers and sisters while attending high school. Multi-tasking had an entirely different meaning during the Great Depression. I’m never complaining again. Suffice it to say that the women in my family have been leaning in far longer than Sheryl Sandberg and instilled an unrelenting work ethic in generations to follow, something for which I am very grateful.
Besides a fabulous cocktail hour, another thing that Grammy and I have in common is our acute memories. I can remember almost everything and so can Grammy, even at her seasoned age of 88. During my recent visit she shared with me an anecdote from my childhood that even I didn’t remember, but it explains so much.
My mom and I used to take trips during summer vacation with Grammy to a variety of places, one of which was the Grove Park Inn. At the time I didn’t fully grasp how totally chic this trip was, but I knew it was special because the fireplaces were enormous and one part of the hotel was haunted by a ghost named the Pink Lady. Tween awkward Anna was totally sold.
During our stay we went shopping one day in Asheville and Grammy purchased a little trinket at a local store. “Can you offer me a discount on this?” she politely inquired to the store clerk. There were no SALE! signs, no mentions of discounts available — she just asked because she could, and did so demurely and casually as Southern women often do. “I’ll give you a 10 percent discount,” the clerk replied, and the sale was made.
As eavesdropping has always been my specialty — my mom used to call me Big Ears, which should have given me a complex but didn’t — I sashayed my way right up to the cash register and, after plopping down a candle I wanted to buy, — why on earth does a tween need a candle? — I proclaimed, “I’d like that discount too!”
I suppose you can say the rest is history.
I like to think that living my life on a budget is a testament to my creativity, not a dig at my lack of cash flow. Either way, at least I can say I get it honestly. All of the women in my family are tight as a tick — familiar with that expression? — and know how to stretch a dollar, especially our heralded matriarch.
The Great Depression taught us so many important lessons — buying on margin is bad, nothing is ever as good as it seems — but the best lesson I’ve learned from Grammy is that living within your means is a power that no one can take away from you. While no generation will ever be as great as the Greatest Generation, perhaps us Millenials can learn a thing or two from our grandparents and live in the same proud and pragmatic way.