My grandmother was a "gold medalist" in school and became an economist and industrial engineer. When she was little, her whole family was sent to one of Stalin's concentration camps, where she suffered injuries that stayed with her all her life. After the war ended, she returned home to a small city in Ukraine and started her own family.
She was always proud of how she could stay home, cook, and provide a warm home for her family. In this way, she was very, very traditional (but had a very strong character). Talking to her was sometimes like answering a police deposition (though the daily subjects were what I ate and how many pieces, what clothing I was wearing and its thickness, and what time I would be home at the end of the day).
When she moved to the United States, she learned English, and while she tried to be as active as she could, her medical problems kept her mostly at home, and so I feel she never quite adjusted to American life. For example, she never really understood why people like to eat in restaurants (What, your food at home is bad or you don't like my food?).
Her biggest character trait of all was caring (sometimes to a frustratingly high degree of detail); she loved and cared for those around her and needed to know everything about them (and worried about every detail of their lives, even when she could do little about it).
I learned a number of things from grandma, both examples of behaviors I wanted to replicate and also examples where I wanted to be different. Even though I felt a generational and cultural gap between me and her, I knew that I could still learn a lot from her, even despite (or perhaps directly due to) these differences.
- Fearing the unknown or new things. This is logical given her experience with the camps. But for myself, I want to feel like I can face uncertainty and am open to new experiences.
- Huge value on physical warmth and food (she always asked what I ate). I agree with this but not with the same level of importance my grandma attributed to it.
- The importance of education (grades, tests). I definitely continue this focus.
- Lots of questioning and deep inquiry. She really cared and always wanted to know more. She had a very good memory for my friends' names and constant awareness of the locations and health status of everyone in the family. Sometimes her questions got to be too much, but I think I could learn to be a bit more like her in making sure I stay up to date with the critical details of those around me I care about.
- Tradition and careers. She definitely had a very narrow range of career choices in the Soviet Union and carried those over to the US in thinking that the only honorable professions are in medicine and law. Business and engineering didn't seem like "professions" ever to her, and I found myself explaining to her my work and what "entrepreneurship" and "computers" were all about almost every time we spoke.
- Little individuality or aspirations. I felt like my grandma was always "on the side" and had few hopes and desires for herself; she always focused on others and on family and almost never expressed her own wishes. I wonder how she was different growing up. Was this due to her decreased social interaction here? Was this due to her aging? I always felt bad about this and wanted to hear her own hopes and some spark of life there inside her. I hope I can maintain that in myself as I age.