Have you ever been in the midst of a seemingly mundane task when *BAM* a million memories flood your noggin? No? Well, it happened to me recently on an early morning trip to the grocery store.
I was at the checkout, exchanging pleasantries with the cashier. She was a very petite, delicate, elderly woman. She asked how I was doing and I absentmindedly replied “Very well. How are you?” almost more out of habit than interest. Her answer was what caught me off balance: “Any day you wake up on the right side of the grass is a wonderful day”.
I have not heard that expression for years. It was one of many in my grandfather’s repertoire of colloquialisms. He had several favorites that you’d come to expect him to weave into the pattern of everyday conversation. There was one, however, that always bothered me growing up: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and rise above it.”
As a teenager, this expression was the absolute worst. Every time that I would whine and mope (the obligatory behavior of any self-respecting 16 year old female) I would hear those words. Feeling sick? That was the reply. Feelings hurt by a boy? That was the reply. Disagreements with peers? That was the reply. A bad haircut? Yep, that was the reply. I’m sure if I had amputated a finger that would have been his reaction.
It’s who he was: A man who lived through the Great Depression and experienced friends die fighting during the Second World War. He was my living, breathing John Wayne. I idolized him. He was a self-made, successful man who worked his hardest every day to make sure his family was taken care of for generations to come. He lived by this mantra and believed this in his soul. If you weren’t bleeding to death, your problems were nothing worth complaining over.
I hated it. Hated it. I wanted to whine. I wanted people to feel sorry for me. I wanted to wallow in my misery. At that age, these issues were HUGE. They WERE the end of the world. I felt as though he was telling me they weren’t a big deal. They weren’t important. I felt he didn’t care.
That’s not what he meant at all. But, it took me decades to figure this out. It was his equivalent of “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.
What he was telling me was that I was stronger than what was pulling me down. When I thought he was minimizing my angst, my grandfather was actually teaching me how to be a survivor. He understood humanity. He had lived through some of the most difficult times in modern history and witnessed some of our countries greatest triumphs. He wanted me to know this, too. And, you know what? It actually worked.
I now see my son struggle while navigating his way through these AMAZING teen times. When he questions why life bites him in the butt on a daily, I give him my own spin on Gramp’s words. I tell him he’s not alone, that his problems are real and, while they might seem devastating now, he will get to the other side. And yes, I also tell him to pull himself up by his bootstraps…and smile.