Friday, July 29, 2011
GRANDMOTHER'S SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
We’ve got a guest writer on the blog this week, Faye Offett. Ms. Offet is a highly successful real estate entrepreneur, single mom and motivational speaker.
Abraham Lincoln was a man of great accomplishments. He was once asked why he did not replace one of his cabinet members who constantly opposed him on every move that he made. Typically, Lincoln answered with a story which reminded me of something my grandmother would have said.
Lincoln replied: “Some years ago, I was passing a field where a farmer was trying to plow with a very old and decrepit horse. I noticed on the flank of the animal a big horsefly, and I was about to brush it off when the farmer said, “Don’t you bother that fly, Abe. If it wasn’t for that fly this old horse wouldn’t move an inch.”
The farmer was giving Lincoln a lesson. He was teaching him that sometime things are placed in our lives to challenge us to keep going. Just like the fly on the horse, the cabinet member challenged Lincoln to dig deeper into his soul for guidance and understanding.
Life lessons often present us with difficult people, situations and conditions that challenge our values and goals. Just like the fly on the horse, my grandmother Isabell Watts influenced my decisions in life.
I am quite successful as a real estate entrepreneur, and when people ask me what helped me to become so I tell them that I graduated from the Isabell Watts School of Hard Knocks. Now when you look at the name of the school, you’ll probably assume that my grandmother might have spanked me when I was growing up. Well yes, you’d be right. Back in those days physical punishment was permissible, but afterward she would sit and lovingly explain her reasoning for doing so. Now I may have been upset about the spankings, but the tongue lashing would last far longer and they would make a lasting impression.
Those tongue lashings challenged me to be honest and forthcoming and to do the right thing. They provided me with the wisdom to confront life with vigor. I didn’t always understand what she was saying or why she did what she did, but today I can truly say that her presence in my life was a blessing in disguise.
During my youth I perceived my grandmother as a difficult person. However, as time has passed I began to understand that she wasn’t difficult. Isabell Watts was a lady of great wisdom and strength.
She had one child, my mother, Irene. In turn, my mother married and had nine children. When my mother divorced, my grandmother took on the responsibility of helping raise her grand children. I am number seven of the nine.
One of the things that she instilled in each of us was the value of hard work. Not only did she work hard, but she took pride in whatever she did.
She was employed by the state of Maryland as a janitor at Jones Elementary School. My great-great grandfather had given the land to Ann Arundel County, Maryland to build the school for the black children to attend. My grandmother took pride in that school. She had roots in that building. I attended the school. It remained all black until 1963 when it was desegregated.
Isabell worked all day maintaining Jones Elementary and in the evening she cleaned and prepared the school for the next day. After leaving there at 9:00 p.m. she would than go to her second job, cleaning the local library after it closed.
As each one of her nine grandchildren reached the age when they could hold a dust rag or a mop, they would be put to work. We worked after school and during the summers, and because she took so much pride in her work every task she gave us had to be done to perfection.
I remember once when my sister and I were given the task of washing the windows at the school. I had one side of the building and my sister had the other side. The total number of windows in that building was about seventy-five, and they were large windows. This was not a small job. My grandmother gave us explicit instructions on how to wash each window. We were to use ammonium water to wash and we were to dry them with newspaper to prevent them from streaking. We thought that it would take forever to get those windows clean, so being children we rushed though our tasks taking all kinds of short cuts. We used water without ammonium and rags to dry. We wanted to finish quickly so that we could play with the neighborhood children.
The next day, when the sun came out revealing the streaks and spots that we had missed, all hell broke loose. I’ll dispense with the other details, but she did make us do every window over until they met with her satisfaction. I can tell you that when we finished all seventy-five windows did shine.
Of course we children worked at the school for free. If we wanted money for something special she taught us how to be creative entrepreneurs. We would pick black berries and sell them at fifty cents a quart. We also picked a plant called bittersweet, a flower that grew wild in the woods. During the early fall the hull that covered the berry in the bittersweet opened to reveal a beautiful reddish orange color. In Maryland where we lived, people would decorate their homes with bittersweets for the fall, so we sold them in bundles for $1.00 or $2.00 depending on the size. Every year we had repeat customers. Today a bundle of bittersweet sells for $30.00 and up. It’s too bad we’re not still in the business.
Isabell Watts’ School of Hard Knocks wasn’t always easy, but because of her I learned to be responsible, creative and to take the initiative in whatever I do. I acquired a sense of awareness that no matter what my circumstances or condition might be in life, I have the ability to choose my attitude. I can be negative or I can be positive. I have the ability to change the way that I see any experience in life. I’ve used her wisdom and values as a single parent to raise my son and to interact with my colleagues and with my friends.
No, I didn’t always understand what my grandmother was trying to teach me. Yet because of her presence in my life, I can honestly say that I do understand what the farmer meant when he said “Abe don’t bother that fly.” I am deeply indebted to Isabell Watts.
Thank you, Grandmother, for challenging me to become the best that I can be.
Until next week muse on that!