How My Grandparents Taught Me to Find Beauty
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Every summer, my siblings and I would take turns spending a week with my Grandpa and Nani (my toddler pronunciation of "Granny" ended up sticking).
During those visits, we ate way too much sugar and made memories worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. My Grandpa is a man born out of his time, with all the skills and savvy of a pioneer mountain man. He took us in the woods, teaching us how to walk quietly and watch nature. He showed me how to tell a buck from a doe in a muddy hoofprint, the habits of animals and birds, and how to catch bass. He taught me about apple trees and tomatoes, bush beans and blueberries, and how to snap beans and hull peas. He's always been the biggest fan of my writing and music and keeps me on my toes with his dry wit.
Growing up, I had pet birds for a few years and when one of them escaped I was devastated. We thought the little bird was gone for good, but my Grandpa had a plan. He attached a hook and fishing line to the cage door, rigging a trap. He then placed a tiny cage with the bird's mate inside and sat in a lawn chair for hours without moving. Sure enough, the bird returned.
And when he was outside with my 5 brothers, working on hunting stands and fishing, I'd be inside with my grandmother.
Nani taught me how to bake, decorate cakes, embroider and cross-stitch and quilt and sew, how to make jelly and preserve pickles, the names of birds and how to use binoculars, the names of plants, and how to keep a flowerbed and navigate fabric stores. She hosted tea parties for me with the tiniest demitasse cups and gave me a love of fine china, blue willow dishes, tea linens, and Southern etiquette.
Their glass-topped coffee table holds woodcarvings by her father, my great-grandfather, a WWII veteran with a Scotch-Welsh heritage. On the weeks I spent at their house, we stayed up past our bedtimes watching Food Network and once the lights were out, she'd tell me stories about growing up - cane syrup making parties and chickens and choir practice and penny loafers. She vehemently took my side when I confided in her about the woes of being the kid with glasses and braces.
She taught me the difference between soprano, alto, tenor, and bass before I ever took piano lessons. She's the one who gives me a deep sense of family and my place in the world. It's from her that I learned to value the handstitched and homebaked, the generational legacies and stories.
It started during those summer stays at their house. But my grandparents still teach me to this day to value priceless and unhurried things, things that our culture often ignores. Goldfinches and Depression glass, bluebirds and gardenias, the habits of wood ducks, good books, and Southern Living magazines.
Now, as a mother, I'm realizing why it's so important to pour these things back into my boys. I'm also reminded that the simple, unhurried things of this world - breeze rippling a pond, homemade everything, and watching hummingbirds, point us to the beauty of our Maker and His good plan for our lives.
Sarah Clarkson shares in her new book, This Beautiful Truth, that beauty saved her when she was at her darkest place of mental illness. Sunrises, moonlight, and lightning bugs reminded her that there is goodness and truth even in this broken world, and we are loved by our wise God. "Beauty speaks of a reality beyond the touch of darkness."
"My deep belief is that beauty has a story to tell, one that was meant by God to speak to us of His character and reality, meant to grip our failing hands with hope." - Sarah Clarkson
And as we stand fishing on the bank of their pond with my toddlers -- four generations watching sunshine sparkle around that red bobber -- I feel it well up inside me. As my two-year-old pulls a bream to shore, I see more clearly.
In a world that has been scary and dark since the fall, beauty reminds us that there is more. In the gospels and the Psalms, Jesus tells us to look at the birds of the air, to see field lilies and grass flowers, and remember that He names the stars. To think of these things, and be comforted.
I want to always let my children play barefoot too long and pause to watch birds, tell them stories of where they came from and their place in the world. And always, always, cultivate the legacy my grandparents began, this brave and gentle movement of thankfulness.