My Grandma Tauali'i didn't know how to read or write when she came to this country...which was fine with me, 'cause she knew how to do everything else perfect!!!
She was the best cook, never using recipes, but could taste a dish and know exactly what was in it...she taught me to cook. She could sew and not use a pattern, she would just go to the store, look at a dress, buy some material and the dress would magically appear in a few days...she taught me to sew.
My Grandma Tauali'i raised me exclusively until I was 6, then off and on after that, so naturally I grew up learning the same techniques she used in how to cook, sew, heal, garden and clean.
When it came time for me to get ready for bed, I would want a story. My Grandmother use to tell me wonderful tales of Samoa and when she was growing up, all about her brothers and sisters, stories of how her Grandfather Opapo raised and taught her, it was the most wonderful time in my life.
Sometimes, my Grandmother would try to read a story from a book, because she was slow in reading English, she would sound out the words and I would read and learn along with her. At four years old, I began reading a set of encyclopedias my mother had bought for our house.
My Grandmother started me on my quest for learning.
I just loved to learn, about anything, my Grandmother made such an adventure out of being able to take care of myself.
My father remarried when I was 6 and my stepmother was only 12 years older than me, which was in itself an adventure, but probably more for her.
The highlight of my year was the summer, my Dad would load our little family up and drive us to Idaho, where my stepmother was from. We would end up on a small dairy farm in Eastern Idaho, near a small town called Blackfoot.
My Grandpa Hale was not a demonstrative man, and very quiet, but I loved him so much. In the mornings, he would get me up early, before the sun, and would take me out to milk the cows. I loved it. The milk had this smell as it sat in the bucket cooling off, and the sound of the cows eating and the milk stream hitting the inside of the bucket is something you can never forget. My Grandpa Hale didn't say much in the mornings, he didn't have to...I would be chattering away, asking all kinds of questions about cows and why they ate hay and did they liked being milked... you know, just chatter. I knew that after we were done with all the cows and had cleaned up the buckets and such, that Grandpa would stroll into the kitchen, where my Grandma Hale would have pulled out a fresh loaf of bread, some homemade jam, fresh milk and some fruit that she had canned, and we would have breakfast. Fresh milk with bread and maybe some canned cherries, it was the best and would stick with you all day!
Grandpa was a great reader and a funny man in his own rite. He was mainly serious to everyone else, but I thought he was funny. If my Grandpa would swear, I would say, "Grandpa, you can't say that!", and he would say, "That's in the Bible, if it's good enough for the Lord to say, then it's good enough for me to say!"
He would talk to me about what he read and not in a "little kid talk" but in a normal way so I felt like he was, like me.
My Grandpa Hale use to let me help him in the garden. We would work pulling weeds and he would tell me about all the weeds, where they came from, the plants and where they came from( He was a professor of agriculture at a local university), and I would soak it up like a sponge.
One summer, I spent a lot of time with my Grandpa and Grandma Hale, in the garden and milking cows, that summer was the best! I can still remember it, after all these years. I cut the bottom of my foot that year sliding through a culvert in a canal nearby, the neighbor boy who was a few years older than me had to carry me home to have it dressed.
Grandpa had a grain bin that had lots of mice in it and wild cats everywhere. I use to try to catch the mice or the cats, which ever caught my eye.
When my parents came and told me it was time to go home, I cried forever it seemed. While the grownups visited for a last time in the house, I stayed out by the grain bin, sulking and saying goodbye to my summer retreat.
I dug my fingers deep into the Idaho soil, in an area that no-one would walk on, but an area that I knew my grandpa could see. I knew that that area would get lots of water in the spring and that the dirt was good.
I took the winter wheat from the grain bin and planted there, hoping that in the spring, my Grandpa would see my work.
When it came time to finally get in the car and leave, I cried again, I just couldn't bear to leave my Idaho home. I waved goodbye to my Grandma and Grandpa Hale until I knew they couldn't see me anymore, and then I slept most of the way back to Illinois.
In the spring, my Grandpa Hale called our house, which he never did. He asked to talk to me, which he just didn't do. When I got on the phone he said, "I got your message."
"Which one?" I asked.
"The one by the driveway that says 'I love you Grandpa...is there another one?'"
"Yes, there is one in the garden that says, 'I love Grandma too'."
To me, Grandparents have been the pinnacle of my learning experience and the foundation on how I have raised my children.
My Grandma Tauali'i taught me how to read and write, cook, sew and heal by taking the time to learn about things with me and teaching me by doing with me.
My Grandpa and Grandma Hale taught me how to survive by teaching me side by side how to do manual labor, talking to me about what they knew and teaching me about life and the great outdoors.
The time that I have spent with my grandparents was the most precious in my life. The elderly have so much to give to us and to our children, if they will and if we as parents will let them. All my grandparents are gone now, but they left so much behind for me to pass on to my children, information you just don't get anymore.
While we have made "healthy resolutions" this year, we should take the time to make "familial resolutions" this year also, to be able to pass precious information down from generation to generation is priceless and traditional and can never be reproduced by the Internet or a University, and can never produce the "Character" and "Integrity" that a Grandparent or Elderly influence can.
D.S. Epperson is the top formulator for Home Blend Gourmet / South Pacific Health, a leader in the functional food industry in the U.S.. With 20 years of experience in Nutritional Biochemistry, she has written reference books on botanicals and manufacturing of medicines from botanicals, and published articles on health, fitness and foods. She has formulated over 240 formulas and inventions for health, the environment and agricultural uses, and continues to research and study microbial advantages in nutraceuticals and functional foods.