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Life lessons from my grandmother, OB”M


Our columnist writes about her grandmother, Miriam Harris Goldberg, who passed away Jan. 8 at the age of 100. Miriam Goldberg was editor and publisher of the Denver-based Intermountain Jewish News since her husband’s untimely death 1972.

In this day and age, or rather “new age” of egocentric and insatiable navel-gazing and blogging, where the conventional wisdom are clichés and catch phrases (such as “you deserve it!” or “you deserve better!” or “put yourself first” and “be who you are at all cost” or “who cares what others or society think or say”), I would like to share some lessons I learned from my grandmother, Miriam Goldberg, may her memory be a blessing.

I learned from her that a good life, a satisfied life, is a life that is greater than the sum of its parts. Much greater. Because, no doubt, there will be difficult parts to tough out.

Always put family first, above all else, even yourself, but don’t neglect yourself. Your nuclear family is the most precious thing you will ever have.

My grandmother helped my grandfather with the many different endeavors that he had to pursue to make ends meet. Because he was idealistic and took an interest in different projects that were not steady, 9-to-5 kinds of jobs, he had to work constantly. It is true that he enjoyed them tremendously, especially the writing, the politics and the community work, but it wasn’t always so simple. My grandmother stayed up late with him at his different locations and gigs, helping behind the cameras. While her friends sported fancy wardrobes, she made the best with what she had (she fooled us all in those stylish photos). 

Mainly, though, her emotional energy went to her family through her abundant nurturing and love. There is a saying in Chinese: a father is the roof of a home, the mother is the floor of a home. In other words, without a mother, there is no home at all! That home extended to the next generation, to my generation, the grandchildren. She was a foundation and pillar of strength, stability and love. Come what may.

Among her lessons:

Kindness. This was her credo. The rest is commentary.

Don’t dwell on life’s sorrows and curveballs not in your control. Move on, move forward.

When life does present unexpected challenges, try to smile back. Because optimism and happiness, according to my grandmother, is a choice. So choose happiness.

Accept people for who they are.

When it comes to yourself, live beneath your means. Be dignified. Be classy. But that has nothing to do with amassing material goods. Class and dignity are intangibles. Wear your dignity in your restraint and privacy, and your class in your acts of kindness.

Always have one good tailored suit and kitten heels on hand, with a perfect timeless strand of pearls, some rouge and lipstick.

Be generous. In spirit, in hospitality, in compassion, in empathy. And in charitable acts.

Help those less fortunate than yourself (for years she read to the blind).

Start every dinner party with an artichoke for the first course. It gives dinner guests time to schmooze and break the ice, plus it buys you some extra time in the kitchen, just in case.

Laughter really is the best medicine. Don’t take life, or yourself, too seriously. Laugh a lot at circumstances that don’t go your way. Find the humor. Just laugh a lot!

Keep a stash of greeting and thank you cards, ready for random occasions that arise (it doesn’t compare to an email!).

Keep a scale in your home. Weigh yourself regularly. And, portion control.

Caffeine. Sometimes it’s your best friend and gets you through the day. Hear, hear espresso and Mountain Dew!

Be gracious. Be feminine. Be respectful of others. Be a giver. And be forgiving.

Young love at first sight really can happen. If you are thus blessed, guard and protect the love of your youth, even after the person himself may already be gone. But love is not always easy, you need to work at it.

Find time to play. Catch a movie with a friend or family member, play a favorite game (she loved Jenga), live some light moments. Treat yourself and treat others.

Have a set dinner party menu and repertoire so you don’t need to plan anew each time.

You don’t need to do “it all” at once. Be present in each stage of life. Motherhood first, a rewarding career can come later. It’s OK to do things sequentially, instead of all at once.

Be restrained and diplomatic in your manner, yet authentic.

Be curious about the world.

Respect your elders tremendously. Also, keep your pulse on the interests of the youth, in dialogue and engagement with them.

Carry on the traditions of Judaism. Be grateful for Israel.

Make your peace. Come to terms with life. It is a gift. The greatest of all.

These, I learned from my grandmother, are the things that keep people buoyed over time, and bring true joy. They create what will become the golden memories of a life well lived. They keep a person anchored to the shore through the stormier tides.

She sure knew it. Her tides took her to tough places. Tears were certainly shed. A century of life — living through the Depression, through disappointments, through loss and much more, she knew how to keep her shores as peaceful, as steady, and as productive as possible.

I exaggerate not when I say, for 100 hundred years my grandmother smiled.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of a smile.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News