My grandmother is easily one of my favorite people to share a drink with: whether it’s a glass of pink champagne or a can of Budweiser, Mimi is always a wealth of stories and laughs. She’s easily the nicest person I know, is a talented (and persistent) gardener, and makes the best chocolate chip cookies and cheese pie to boot.
Mimi turns 85 today, and it’s the first time in years that I won’t be home to celebrate with lunch on the river and sangria in the hot tub. So, as a bit of a birthday tribute to her, I wanted to share the most important life lessons I learned from her (and how they relate to my travels, of course!).
Talk to strangers: Mimi can strike up a conversation with just about anyone: the waiter, the person sitting on a bench, the bank teller. But the amazing thing is that she doesn’t just stop with exchanging a bit of small talk—she’s often able to create a friendship, or at least a relationship, with the person. The server/bartender at our favorite sushi restaurant always goes out of his way to stop by our table, say hello, and personally make and deliver her favorite drink—mostly because every time we go, she makes sure to ask for him by name and jokingly ask if he can make a second one in a to-go cup. I think of her every time I manage to get a friendly smile of recognition and a bit of chit-chat the third time I visit a cafe in a touristy town: bang! Making friends!
Take advantage of your opportunities: I think Mimi is a bit amazed at what I’ve been able to do: quit my job, travel the world, live in other countries. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania and working for the telephone company, she was offered a job in the big city of Philadelphia in her 20s after superiors took note of her excellent math skills. But her mother told her she was too young to move to the city. Eventually, she married and raised three kids in the same small town: a life with no regrets, but I think she wonders about what might have happened if she had today’s opportunities. I’m very grateful that she encouraged my mom to go out and see the world (my mom spent a year in France at 16, a rare thing in the 1970s), and, in turn, that my mom has been so supportive of my travels.
Tell your story: Mimi always seems to have a story: hilarious anecdotes about raising three children, living with my grandfather, driving across the country in a campervan. She remembers a shocking amount of detail for stories that took place decades ago—it was so-and-so’s cousin on a Tuesday–I can barely remember last year with such clarity. She started writing her autobiography a few years ago, and it’s an incredible glimpse into her life. I blog for a lot of reasons, but one is certainly so that I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about that the time I got bedbugs in Bali or camped across the Nullarbor.
Embrace change: Whenever I ask her if she’s nostalgic for the good old days, Mimi laughs. “The good old days when we had to do the wash by hand? I don’t think so!” She’s been on the computer for years, using AIM to chat with me when I was younger (and AIM was still cool) and emails me funny anecdotes a few times a week. She reads my blog, knows how to Google and Wikipedia things, sorts out her bank accounts online. She’s incredibly hip about embracing change: a flexibility that is key in any successful traveler.
Try new things: Even though she’s perfected her pizzelles and almond quiches—everyone knows to stop in to Mimi’s for a cookie—she’s still keen to try new recipes. An excerpt from a recent email from her:
“Recipe for a Shaker pie was in paper….used my mandolin to slice lemons paper thin – followed directions – pie was unbelievably horrible.”
Saw a recipe for almond toffee – cut recipe in half – tasting finished product, I should have doubled or tripled the recipe – it was so good.”
After being super bummed out about not being home to play taste-tester, I realized how awesome it is that despite having mastered dozens of delicious cookie (and cake, and pie, and jello mold) recipes, she’s still willing to try out new combinations. Also an excellent reminder that sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t–but you never know until you try.
Have fun: Whenever I take off on an adventure, Mimi always ends her goodbye by telling me to have fun. There’s a photo of her from about 15 years ago on her fridge: it’s by the pool at her house in Florida and she’s tanned, wearing a beautiful floral bathing suit and has a drink in one hand. I was studying the photo when she commented–“Ahh, Florida. Those were the days–sun, sex and sangria!” And that, ladies and gentlemen, pretty much sums up how awesome my grandmother is.
Happy birthday, Mimi! Lots of love from Thailand xoxo