For most of my childhood, I spent the majority of my days with my grandmother, a wonderful Southern lady named Elena. Both of my parents worked long hours and I was an only child, so grandma’s house became my second home and she became my best friend. Like many Southern women in the early part of the twentieth century, she had to quit elementary school so that she could help pick cotton and take care of her other siblings. However, despite her lack of formal education, she was one of the smartest women I have ever known. Even more importantly, she was one of the most loving, nurturing women that God ever created.
On all weekdays before I began kindergarten and on all school breaks thereafter, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house on her way to her eight to five job. My grandmother had never learned to drive and my grandfather was never home before at least three o’clock, so we were alone most of the time. She had a strict schedule that she had developed which included heavy daily cleaning, cooking the meal for the day, praying her rosary, watching her “stories,” and teaching me how to be a little lady. She let me have my play time, but there was plenty of time for little lady lessons as well.
There are so many examples of ways that my grandmother taught me to be kind, gentle, and nurturing. We prayed, she rocked me and sang to me about how much everyone loved me, we cleaned, and we played beauty shop. She taught me how to dress my dolls like proper young ladies, serve coffee to guests and speak French, the only language that she and my grandfather spoke. Looking back, if I had to choose one single example of a lesson she taught me, it is undoubtedly the sweetest, and the funniest lesson of all.
I have to begin this story by telling you that my grandmother was obsessed with cleanliness. Nevertheless, she did acquiesce to my fondness for making mud pies from time to time, especially if she had to work in her garden. Though the dirt on face and homemade dresses that she had lovingly made for me must have driven her insane, she never complained; nor did I even dare to resist her ordering me straight into the bathtub as soon as we went back into the house. I must have been the cleanest kid in Louisiana! (My skin is still dry to this day.) “Ladies are always clean,” she would say as she powdered me from head to toe and put on my second or third dress of the day. She would sing to me, brush my hair and make me brush my teeth- again!
Please see the rest of my article at