more lessons i learned from the old people in my life

I need to grow a pair. Yeah, you read that right.

It took flying more than 4,000 miles to visit my grandparents in Boston and Florida for me to learn that I have to stop being so … straight edge. Not only is it stressful to try and maintain decorum and obey the rules all the time, but it’s also embarassing when your 85-year-old grandmother schools you on the merits of risk taking.

I’ve been in Florida less than 24 hours and I have already discovered that I need to re-examine my approach to life. You see, my grandmother has never really been one to follow the rules. (Or at least rules she doesn’t particularly think apply to her or care for.) For instance, last night as we pulled up to the restaurant for dinner all of the handicap spaces were taken. Instead of parking four spots down, Nana wedged her car in a space designated for curbside pickup.

“What are they going to do? Arrest me?” she laughed as we passed a police officer heading into the same restaurant. During the meal I left the table to check to make sure the car was still there. Nana just shook her head at me and smiled.

“Nana, how did you get so ballsy,” I asked?

She told me how she developed her moxie. In 1942, my nana enlisted in The Waves – a division of the Navy. She was sent to basic training at Hunter College in New York, which she fondly recalls as “terrible.” Afterwards my nana was dispatched to San Diego where she was stationed as a dental hygenist. But instead of cleaning the teeth of the soldiers on the base, my nana’s duties quickly shifted to emergency medical care.

Soldiers injured overseas were brought back the base often still wearing their uniforms caked with dried blood and dirt. Many had facial deformities. Many came home to die. My nana took care of these men.

She held the hands of soldiers as they died. She has never forgotten holding the hand of one young man from Appalachia. Just 18 years-old, he sustained massive injuries while fighting. My nana held his hand throughout his final night, sitting by his bedside as he cried out for his mother and listening to the sounds of cockroaches rattling in the cabinets.

It was here in San Diego that my nana first learned the value of disobedience. It was here that learned the importance of saying no.

My nana received orders to take care of the high-ranking officers wives housed in the delivery ward. My nana refused. She said their accomodations were too fancy and seemed inappropriate compared to the injured soldiers dying downstairs. She refused to squeeze oranges to make fresh juice for these women. She asked to be reassigned. Nana told her superiors she would do anything for the soldiers, but would not work upstairs.

“I should have been court marshalled,” she laughed.

Instead, she was reassigned. My nana has been pushing the boundaries ever since.

Editor’s Note: Nana just edited the post and says she didn’t park in a spot for curbside parking the other night – it was actually a spot designated for handicapped vans.

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