5 Things My Grandmother Taught Me

In light of Mother’s Day last week, I wanted to take a little time to honor two women who have nurtured and guided me over the years. I’m one of the very lucky ones who has had close relationships with both my grandmothers, and they’ve each played a vital role in shaping who I am today. So even though Mother’s Day is over, I’m rebelling. I’m going to talk about my grandmothers anyway, because I can. (That rebellious streak probably came from them, anyway.) Today, meet Joyce.


My mother’s mother is a sweet and sassy southern wonder. She’s a tiny little woman with a huge heart and a major sweet tooth. The sweet tea she prefers is more like tea-flavored simple syrup. It’s thick. Like all good southern girls, she is sweet and unassuming on the exterior, but she’s tough. She’s a true steel magnolia. On the night before my wedding, she fell down the steep, narrow stairs at the rehearsal dinner headfirst and banged her face up pretty badly. It was one of those horribly scary moments where there is a collective gasp and everyone’s heart stops. She went back to the hotel to sleep it off, but the next day she was at the salon getting her hair done with bells on. She had her makeup done and she picked out some big Bono sunglasses to hide the bruising. She rocked those shades and looked fabulous, and danced through the day more gracefully than I did.

Though I could list thousands, here are five things I learned from my “Mamaw”:

1.) Fashion is important. Finding a bargain is equally important. My Mamaw is where all the fashion sense in my family comes from, and I blame her genes for the fashionista already coming out in my 5 year old daughter. (The force is strong with that one, I tell you.) Joyce Webb has owned more shoes than I will ever wear in my lifetime, and I’m pretty sure if you lined up all the closets from the different decades of her life, it would rival that of Paris Hilton or a Kardashian, except she didn’t spend millions. She would always say to me, “Missy K, I’ve got champagne taste on a beer budget.” She has always loved beautiful things, and when we visit we always get out her jewelry cabinet (yes, she has a whole piece of furniture for her jewelry) and play dress up. It’s just what we do.

2.) Live abundantly. When I was growing up, Mamaw would drink a Diet Coke and eat a Hershey bar for breakfast. If people questioned her choice of nutrition to start out the morning, she would give them a look that made it clear their concern was absurd, and say “Well, it’s what I like!” She says that life is short, and in light of that, she has lived hers to the fullest. She and Papaw really valued once in a lifetime experiences, and they have generously provided those for our family over the decades. For instance, my mom saw Bill Withers (“Lean on Me” & “Ain’t No Sunshine”) perform in a small night club in New York City when she was about ten years old. When I was ten years old, they flew our family to Austria and Germany for a week. Why, you ask? Because upon visiting, my Mamaw thought it was beautiful, and was so taken with it she felt everyone needed to see it. Every wonderful thing she’s experienced, she wants to share with others. That’s just who she is, and that brings me to my next point.

3.) Give generously. Mamaw has entered Publisher’s Clearing House contests my whole life, and everyone in the family always made fun of her for it. As we laughed and teased, she would just smile and lick the envelope. “You can laugh now, but when I hit it big you won’t be laughing!” She’s always said that “when her ship comes in” she’ll share with everyone. She has showered us all with gifts our whole lives—everything from new school clothes to vacations, and everything in between. To this day every phone conversation I have with her will, at some point, include her trying to give me something. And when we visit I know I have to leave extra room in the suitcase for all the things she’ll send home with me. I guess her love of shopping combined with love of family just expresses itself in generosity. She can’t go anywhere without seeing something she wants to buy as a gift. Her life teaches me to share big, and she has showed me the importance of investing what you have in others.

4.) Everyone is valuable. My Mamaw has spent her life serving and loving her family, and all who enter her home. She treats regular people like royalty, and from the moment you cross the threshold of her house, she makes sure you feel special. In the tradition of southern women, food is a way she communicates love, to the point that if we’re not eating it makes her uncomfortable. If anyone in the room doesn’t have food in front of them, she’ll list off every option in the house until she finds something you’ll say yes to. Ben has finally learned to just accept it and acquiesce within the first few tries so as not to prolong the painful process—she’s persistent, so you might as well stuff your face and get it over with. Every person who comes through her door not only leaves with a full belly, but they leave feeling loved and important. She has that gift.

5.) The way to navigate this beautiful, frightening world is to have just the right balance of tender and feisty. Mamaw is equal parts mischief and goodness. She is mild-mannered and kind, but she’s not afraid to raise some cain over something she believes and feels deeply about. Just like most of us, my Mamaw is complex, and though she is the very picture of gentleness and humility, she has fire in her bones. She has a very clear sense of right and wrong, and she expresses fiercely her passionate hatred of what is wrong in the world. I guess I’ve learned from her that being meek doesn’t necessitate lacking backbone. She’s a strong woman and I’m thankful her strength runs through my veins.

These few paragraphs could never do Mamaw justice, but I wanted to take a little time today to honor her and the impact of her life on mine. Thanks, Mamaw, for being who you are and for selflessly caring for all of us over all these years. There will never be another you, and words could never express how much I love and value you.