On Veteran’s Day I wrote this about my grandma. This morning she passed away, but her lessons live on.
In 1943, nearly a century ago now, World War II was in full swing and a young girl named Maggie was ready to help. However, after presenting the idea of enlisting to her fellow nursing school friends, it looked like she was the only one who was willing. It’s easy to see how the idea would seem daunting: these girls had never ventured further than their small, rural Midwest counties, let alone another country. That didn’t bother Maggie though. As a 21 year old nurse, new to her craft and eager to practice it, she welcomed the adventure and enlisted alone.
Saying goodbye to the only place she had ever known, she took a train to New York where she boarded the Queen Elizabeth to Southampton, UK. Maggie was mesmerized by the enormity of the ocean liner that was many times larger than her town. Upon arriving in Europe, Maggie was stationed in London where she treated wounded soldiers, became Second Lieutenant and met a New York doctor. The lessons that I’ve learned from this courageous woman who I now call my grandmother are endless, but below are some for which I am most thankful.
The true meaning of strength
In a May blog post, I boasted about being tough because I flew to New York by myself for a solo vacation. But tough is not going to museums and bars alone. Tough is going overseas by yourself to help fight a war. And while I think that I’m strong because I can lift some weights, true strength is lifting wounded soldiers into hospital beds. And I tell myself that I’m ambitious for going after my dreams of writing and art, but I can only hope that my ambitions aid people in the way hers did.
Follow your heart
On her 90th birthday, my Grandma brought out black and white photographs from her past. Though I can’t imagine my grandchildren asking to see pictures of my ex-boyfriends, I was excited to finally see a picture of “The Doctor.” He was the Italian PhD from New York who wanted her to move to NYC with him after the war. But like The Notebook, a certain solider already had her heart so she turned down The Doctor and married her hunky high school sweetheart when they both returned home.
Sometimes I’ve wondered what her life would’ve been like if she had moved to the Big City instead of back to her small town. Sadly, my Grandma now has dementia. Most of her memory is gone, but she still asks about my Grandpa who passed away almost ten years ago. I imagine it’s like one of those mornings when you wake up from a deep sleep, and, in a panic, wonder “Where am I?!” but hers is, “Where is he?” It’s apparent she made the right choice.
Being independent doesn’t mean being alone
As a workaholic, single girl whose goal is to independently adopt someday, I’m guilty of equating independence with solitude. However, my grandmother was one of the most independent, hardworking and successful nurses I know, yet she found time to raise 10 children and cook a hot meal for her husband every night for 50 years. Now with dementia in her nineties, she’s dependent on others to remind her what she ate for breakfast. Luckily, she has dozens and dozens of children and grandchildren by her side. That’s what life is all about.
Lipstick is always allowed
Growing up I spent almost every weeknight playing cards and eating popcorn at my Grandma’s. She told me one night that girls weren’t allowed to wear lipstick in the Army. Like other setbacks, she didn’t let it stop her. Though she was a tough, respectful chick, she proudly sported her red lipstick, whether the Army liked it or not. Sometimes you have to break rules to stay true to yourself, red lips and all.