#64 A Lost Role Model (2002)

All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

My grandmother died in the summer of 2002.  She was 85 years old and, if Women's Studies and MBA programs actually reflected serious scholarship of their subjects, she would be a recognized hero in both of those programs.  She and my grandfather were the two best business managers in the history of capitalism.  I know this for a collection of reasons and personal experiences.

When I last visited her, while she was sleeping and I stood on her back porch, remembering better times in that house and looking out over her large yard, I saw memories of a collection of young boys mowing that yard.  This may not seem like a big thing, but of the two dozen sons, grandsons (including me), great-grandsons, and our friends, none ever resented doing that work.  Some of us were paid for the work, some of us volunteered, and all of us did the job as well as we could.  Our motivation was that we knew we were appreciated and we were doing the job because we wanted to be doing it.  Working conditions that put teenage boys into that frame of mind is the kind of management talent that almost never exists.

My grandmother exercised that kind of skill in almost every area of her own small business.  She and my grandfather ran a flooring business, with a dozen or more employees.  Over the years, several of their employees took the experience and skills they obtained in my grandparents' employment and began their own businesses.  Many others spent the overwhelming bulk of their personal careers working for my grandparents.  The loyalty of their past and upwardly mobile employees remained in place for at least a decade after my grandparents retired from their businesses. 

They left a legacy of customer loyalty, also.  Their customers ranged from the most to the least wealthy and, if you watched my grandmother help a customer pick materials, you would not be able to tell which end of the financial spectrum the customer belonged.   She was the first class-blind person I'd known.  You could credit that attribute to her own early struggle to survive, but I think it was more than that.  She was also culture and color-blind.  Without a sign of patronizing, she treated everyone who came into her store with the same quiet, interested, helpful grace that, outside of her store, I’d only seen on English movies.  I think it was her nature rather than her conditioning that gave her this unique, ideal American quality.  Some people rise above their surroundings seemingly oblivious to the attitudes and standards of the time and place.  She was one of those people. 

As the years pass, my reasons to visit Kansas diminish.  Like much of the Midwest, the cream of my class long moved away to the coasts or the warm states.  Like electrons fleeing the Big Bang, the family is dispersed and continues to migrate away from the center.  The state is dingier, more depressed and more depressing each time I visit.  A bright spot was always my grandmother's house.  An afternoon with her, drinking coffee and watching sports and talking about her life, my life, and what we thought it all meant made the 1800 mile roundtrip a lot shorter, going both directions. 

Now, she's gone.  No one can take the place of the woman who gave me my first job, who gave me encouragement when I lost courage, who taught me the real values of education and independence, and the lady who told me to follow my heart regardless of her opinion of the direction. 

It has taken me a year to finish this piece.  I can't remember her without missing her.  My hometown is less, by more than half, my hometown without her there.  The depth of my family is reduced to a small fraction of its population without her in it.  Some people are so constant, so dependable, so make the world seem complete in their presence that in their absence the entire world is reduced.  They are irreplaceable.  My grandmother is irreplaceable.  Not just in my family, but in the world she touched.  I will never forget her and I will do what I can to make sure others know and remember what she taught me.

August 2002

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