What Living With My 85-Year-Old Grandmother Taught Me About Life

by Zoe Sessums

When I turned 18, I decided the best way to forge a new path, one far away from my graduating class, would be to go live with my grandmother.

I would get to reside roughly 1,200 miles away from my hometown, and I would try to live without all the comforts to which I was previously accustomed.

My grandmother was not one of those Iris Apfel types; I never saw her wear makeup or dresses. I never even saw her accessorize with as much as a watch.

She sewed her own slacks and button-up blouses, and she bought generic shoes that would be practical for gardening and biking.

My grandma listened to classical symphonies on the radio, and she had not been to the movies in decades. To say the least, she was economical.

I, on the other hand, had about 60 pairs of shoes. I had acquired them primarily at thrift stores and consignment shops, but still, I had a thing for glamour and excess.

I love weird movies, avant-garde music and reading magazines. I was a saver; I knew how to manage my money, but I knew how to regularly splurge.

I’ve never met a giant bakery confection that seemed too frivolous to purchase.

Part of the reason I was to live with my grandmother had to do with the fact that was the first summer she had been without my grandfather.

My grandparents had been married for 50 years, and in the time I knew them, I rarely saw them apart.

In a way, I took on the new role of partner.

Living with my grandmother was an experience. She had a scheduled time for every activity and meal of her day. I was free from a schedule for the first time in my life.

There was a process of assimilation, and lessons were learned.

1. The Joy of Savings

Grocery shopping was a serious sport for my grandparents. They knew, down to the cent, the prices at competing stores for various items. So, for me to help out, I could not take the job lightly.

Grandma would know I bought the pricier brand of ketchup. She would question why I needed particularly frivolous items.

If I ate Cheerios for a few weeks in a row, it would wreak havoc if I decided I didn’t want to eat cereal at a later date: “But, we have cereal. I thought you were going to be eating cereal.”

In some ways, I learned how to lie better. I would pretend something had been on sale and throw away the receipt. I would hide granola bars (said frivolous item) in my closet.

I would consume a $4 kombucha before I got home (and hide the bottle until I went back to town and could dispose of the evidence).

Though, there came a point when I found the glory of getting the best deals. It made my heart race to negotiate a deal at the deli counter.

It turns out powdered milk doesn’t taste terrible and lasts quite awhile. I could make an afternoon out of shopping around various stores to get the cheaper lettuce here and the bang-for-your-buck club soda there.

2. The Art of the Short Shower

Have you ever been nervous about how long you were taking in the shower? Has anyone ever told you if you showered for too long, letting the water run continuously, it could fill up the septic tank, create a giant flood in the yard and cost tons of money to fix?

My first weeks of showers were a nerve-racking experience, as I tried to wash as thoroughly as I could in the shortest amount of time.

I have long, thick hair, and I was living in a place that facilitated a decent bikini line.

I needed lots of hair washing and shaving time.

I often wondered if my grandma could tell how much water I was using. I figured out how to survive this obstacle.

I basically performed a daily “navy shower.” This method of showering requires turning off the water during the middle portion of the shower.

A short amount of time is used to get wet, followed by soap and lather without running water, which is then rinsed off.

Sometimes, I would time myself and feel smug about my shower lasting mere minutes. The new feats of pride I discovered were small, but they felt no less glorious.

3. Befriending Neighbors

My grandmother had a lot of friends surrounding her. She was blunt and particular, but she knew how to maintain lifelong companions.

We’d bike down to the beach and talk with every older person we passed sitting in a beach chair.

Even if we just chatted about small things and the weather, it was nice to get in on the friendships. She shared all her acquaintances, and I benefitted from all the perks.

Most of my life, I did not feel comfortable enough to ask the person next door for a cup of sugar, let alone go over for dessert and a movie.

Soon enough, I was waving to everyone on his or her porch. I felt less alone in this place so far from home.

My grandma and I would receive a basket of fresh vegetables on the front steps, no note necessary, and we could figure out the sender. We were invited to cocktail hours and barbecues on the regular.

So what if all my newest friends were members of AARP or needed to turn up the volume on their hearing aids; next-door friendships are the best.

4. Love Does Not Need to Be Obvious and Loud

There was a definite process to my youthful stubbornness and my grandmother’s senior stubbornness.

I know we both rolled our eyes behind one another’s back and felt frustration with the other’s preferences. Yet, we both eventually softened. Each of our strong, quiet personalities found a way to bond.

I figured out it wouldn’t kill me to sit down and have dinner with my grandmother every night, at the exact same hour, with a similar rotation of protein, starch and vegetable.

I began to love that early-bird special. Plus, I would have a long night to explore still ahead.

My grandmother would have me borrow a dozen DVDs from the library, and we’d watch one as we ate our dinner each night. We didn’t need to talk to connect.

Turns out, a woman with little interest in loud music and glitz could tolerate any of the movies I picked out.

We once had to endure a long, explicit BDSM scene, and we both just laughed about it afterward.

Grandma began to feel like an old girlfriend.

She trusted me enough that at one point, she asked me to cut her hair. I was terrified I would mess up the short look she had worn my whole life.

It was a profound moment when I ran my fingers through her hair and discovered the lovely black strands that hid beneath the white outer layer.

She raved when I was done and bragged to all our friends on the beach. I began to feel like we understood each other.

I loved that we both always had room for dessert, often twice a day. We remembered each other’s favorite ice cream flavors and would surprise each other with a quart when one was on sale.

She let me be a young adult and stopped commenting about how late I slept in.

She would do her crossword puzzle in pencil, and then erase all her work so I had one to do when it was my hour for breakfast.

Our relationship went from casual holiday small talk, to planning shopping lists and understanding the minuscule details of our eccentricities.

I discovered how pleasing it could be to find a great deal on walnuts at the market, yet I also learned all about the crazy things my grandma had done in her lifetime.

I figured out how my grandmother expressed her version of love, and I showed her mine right back.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers and mother figures out there.

If you get the chance, get to know your grandma.