Life According to Grandma McKenzie

It’s hard to believe that it is already December and we’re wrapping up 2014. I feel like it was just yesterday that the year started. This year ends on a bit of a somber note for me, personally, as I lost both of my grandmothers this past November. I’ve been lucky enough to have them for such a large part of my life. I truly feel fortunate to have had the time to learn about them and get to know what incredible lives they led. While this has been a difficult time for me and my family, I’ve noticed that the loss of loved ones affects us all in very different ways. I’ve spent time thinking about the person I have become, the person I want to be and all the things and people that have played a role in getting me to this point. With that, I realized, more so than ever before, the impact my Grandma McKenzie had on the adult I’ve become. Now that she is gone, I wonder if she ever knew how important she was to me and how thankful I am to have had her as a strong female role model. In her honor, I’d like to take a break from my normal blog topics and share with you some life lessons I learned from my Grandma McKenzie.


  1. I got this.

When I think of my Grandma McKenzie, I think first of her independence. She not only preferred doing things on her own, she demanded it. Up until this past spring she lived in her own townhome in St. Cloud. I remember once, last year, during a brief stay at an assisted living home after she had tripped, she told me how anxious she was to get back home. She looked at me with pride and said, “My doctor says I’m fiercely independent.” There is a large amount of strength in maintaining that level of independence late in life, along with some amount of stubborn persistence. I’ve always been proud of that aspect of my grandma; she lived her life her own way, unapologetically. There are times that I look at task and sigh deeply, thinking there is no way I can accomplish it on my own – but the fact is there are very few things that I can’t do if I set my mind to it. My grandma taught me that.


  1. One can never be overdressed…

My grandma grew up during the great depression and was not from a family of considerable means. She was always carefully frugal with her money, but when it came to time to make purchases she was not afraid to spend a couple extra dollars for the best she could afford. She loved beautiful things and always took special care to present herself in a beautiful, sophisticated way. Even late in her life she regularly had her hair styled, wore jewelry and touched up her lipstick every opportunity she had. Sometimes, I’ll put an outfit together, look in the mirror and think, ‘Grandma McKenzie would like this.’ Grandma taught me that the way I present myself to the world is important – not because of what others think, but because feeling confident about my appearance translates into confidence in my interactions.


And, of course, grandma’s home was always a special place to visit. As a child I would spend summer days at her house, which was always neatly decorated and well kept – a place for everything and everything in its place – I’d play with her fancy perfume bottles, try on her jewelry and introduce the different porcelain animals to each other (the cat with flowers on its back was always my favorite). She took great pride in her beautiful home, and she made it a place where our family felt comfortable and safe. In following her example, I think it is important to create beautiful spaces. I decorate my cubicle at work, spend a ridiculous amount of time stenciling a wall in my living room and invest in upgrades to my home. These things are more than just the places I work and live in and the clothes I wear, they reflect the person that I am and should make me feel comfortable to be myself.


  1. … or over educated

Born the same year women first received the right to vote, my grandma grew up in a time where women were just starting to publically identify themselves as men’s equal. It wasn’t all that typical at that time for women to seek a college education or work outside the home. But I think Grandma McKenzie always knew that, in addition to raising a family, she wanted to make a difference in the world and become a teacher. She first received a two year certificate at the age of 20, and later would go back for a Bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State – around the same time my mother was attending school for nursing.

Grandma Graduation

Grandma Graduation (back)

My mother once recounted to me the emphasis that my grandma placed on education. Sitting her down at the dining table and spreading out college brochures – there was never a question whether or not she would continue her education after high school. I’m guessing based on that influence, it was never a question for me either. In fact, I don’t even remember my mother and I having conversations about whether or not I’d attend college, the conversations were about where I should go and what I should study.

Grandma McKenzie was not only a devoted teacher, but she was always an eager student as well. I shared a story of her on Facebook a few weeks back; my mother and I were visiting her one Sunday afternoon and she was gushing about a gentlemen she had seen interviewed on the morning news shows. She said, “He kept using words I’d never heard before, I had to rush and get a pen and paper so I could write them all down!” She showed us the note pad and the scribbled definitions she had found in her dictionary. Even as an adult, she was always ready to learn. Ever since that day I’ll often find myself jotting down unfamiliar words that I hear or read so that I can look them up later. Every time I do, I think of Grandma McKenzie.


  1. Family and laughter should be synonymous.

Grandma, my Mother, Uncle Denis & Uncle PatSome people may have thought Grandma McKenzie didn’t have much of a sense of humor – and they would be wrong. She was the type to throw out a line with a straight face and have everyone wondering “is she kidding?” To be honest, sometimes I’m not sure if she was – but she raised a family that rarely stops laughing when we’re together. I feel lucky that, as an adult, I consider my brother and cousin two of my best friends. No one really understands our sense of humor the way that we do, and that has formed a bond that I treasure. This past summer a big group of my aunts, uncles and cousins got together and spent to day bouncing from brewery to brewery along the Green Line in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There were moments when the laughter from our group was nearly deafening. Sure, we may not be the closest family you’ll ever meet – but I challenge you to find one that has more fun when they’re together.

  1. What’s that they say about “idle” minds?

I don’t know that the word “bored” was in my grandma’s vocabulary. She always seemed busy with some thing. We would often do crafts together when I was a child. I’d spend a summer day at her house and we’d make a little felt dress for my teddy bear, paint pictures or create clay animals (or at least something that resembled animals). Grandma loved hobbies; she enjoyed learning new skills – anything from speaking French to attempting needlepoint. I honestly believe the amount of time that my grandma spent learning new things is the main reason she was still so sharp and present late in life. She taught me that it’s never to late to try something new.

Grandma & Grampa

One of her favorite past times was traveling. Going through her box of photos, it’s remarkable to think of all the places she and my grandpa visited. They enjoyed exploring new places, learning about different cultures and broadening their horizons. Grandma kept piles of postcards from all of her excursions – some that she mailed back home to her mother with notes describing her adventures. Travel was very important to my grandma, I think because she didn’t have many opportunities to do it when she was young. She wanted to see as much as she could as an adult. I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would like, but I’ve been lucky enough to visit some very beautiful places and I intend to visit more, buying postcards at every stop.


RingI’ll never forget the day I graduated from St. Cloud State with my Bachelor’s degree. She approached me with a little jewelry box and inside was a silver banded pinky ring with a sapphire at its center. I immediately put it on my finger and when I looked up I noticed her eyes had welled up with tears. She squeezed my arms and said, “Cum Laude” as a smile stretched across her face. She was very proud of me that day and now every time I look at this ring I see that smile on her face. I know that over time I will forget the sound of her voice and the scent of her fancy perfume will fade from her scarves hanging in my closet. But the things that time cannot take away are the most important, like these lessons that I carry with me every day and shape the person I am, someone I think she can be proud to call her granddaughter.


Until next time…


One thought on “Life According to Grandma McKenzie

  1. That is a beautiful tribute to your Grandma. You probably already know this- but she was my 5th grade teacher and she was my favorite. She taught me how to love reading. She was one classy lady. You write so beautifully Claire. Kathy

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