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Always Powder your Nose, and other Wisdom my Grandmother Left Me

We cannot underestimate the influence of grandparents in children’s lives. As a mother, when I see my parents and my in-laws interacting with, teaching, caring for and providing love to my kids, I personally feel so supported in the huge task of raising these babies.

I grew up in a home with seven children. My grandparents lived a few miles down the road, and boy did we need them. The lessons I learned as a child watching my grandmother have a permanent imprint on the way I see the world.

My grandmother, a wealthy woman of great taste, taught me that if you have a few expensive pieces of clothing and you mix in some items from Walmart, no one will ever notice. She told me that the only reason she wore powder was because someone a long time ago decided that women’s noses should never, ever be shiny. She taught me how to make a bed and introduced me to the wonderful world of earplugs when I was having trouble sleeping in my loud, chaotic home. She taught me that when things are really bad, sometimes you should just buy some chocolate and take a nap.

One time, after she got pulled over and asked to “step out of the van” as at least 12 of her grandchildren peered out at her from the 7 seat van, we watched her talk and then laugh with the officer and then get back in the van. When we asked her if she was going to get arrested for packing too many kids in the car she replied, “Guys, I’m old. I just told him I was taking you all roller skating and he felt bad enough for me.” We all roared with laughter. I wish I knew what happened in that interchange between cop and grandma. I’m sure I would have picked up a few more life skills.

One of the most important things that grandma taught me was how to deal with death – that when someone important in a friend’s life dies, you show up and you bring flowers. Death is hard and sad, she taught me, but you go to the funeral, you talk about the dead, you show friends that you are there to talk or cry or whatever they need. You be there for the grief. She prepared me to eventually deal with her death, to talk about it, cry about it, and continue loving her for the lessons she taught me about everything from Walmart clothes to facing heartbreaking events in my life.

In my entire life I will never know another person like her. When I think too long about it, I start to feel grief seeping over me for the fact that my children don’t get to know her and that she will not shape them. I can get overwhelmed thinking that they will never learn everything they need to know because she is gone from this earth.

In that moment I have to stop. I have to remember that this is the way it goes with grandparents. She put her heart and soul into my cousins and me. She shaped us, she got into our bones and our blood. Now she is gone but she left pieces of herself in each of us. She made us know how to be kind and decent human beings and now we have to take that influence and pass it on to our children. Perhaps some of her love and humor and way of navigating through life came from the generation before her, and she took her turn passing it to us, and now it’s our turn to carry it forward.

Whenever I powder my nose and think about how someone, some where, a long time ago decided that my nose should never be shiny, I laugh. When I get pulled over by a cop, I try to make self-deprecating jokes with them. When life gets bad, I listen for her words and feel her gentleness encouraging me. When I interact with my children, I try to use her voice and her kindness and I have to believe that, thankfully, she is not totally gone from the earth.

Written by Betsy Ryan

Betsy Ryan

Betsy Ryan resides in Watford City and is a recent transplant to Western North Dakota. She is learning to navigate her new landscape along with her husband and their two boys. Betsy writes for the McKenzie County Farmer and also shares her experiences in North Dakota on her blog,

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