Love & Leftovers: What My Grandparents Taught Me

Here on Literally, Darling, we seem to have concerned ourselves recently with several discussions of what it means to be millennial. As twenty-somethings, our lives are full of concerns like jobs and iPhones (or lack thereof) and our health (or lack thereof) and social media and body image and dating and college, and all that jazz.

This got my ticker all up in a tizz. It got me thinking about my grandparents and their generation, and why they say they were happier when they were in their 20s than we are now. They wanted for less and lived “real life” a little more back in “the good old days,” before growing up to be the wonderful old folks we call our grandparents—the wizened and wrinkled men and women who peppered our childhoods with candy and stories and words of wisdom. I’ve been thinking about those stories recently, and have selected a few gems that my own grandparents taught me that I felt were most pertinent to us Gen Y kids—the stories that might teach us exactly how to want less and live more.

Put yourself in your grandmother’s shoes, for a second. She comes from a time when there wasn’t a mass post-high-school exodus to college, where (so she says) the only jobs most women went into were nursing, teaching, or secretarial work. Back in those days, women didn’t grow up hating their bodies because it had been conditioned into them from the moment they picked up their first Barbie doll that the one true equation to happiness was that ‘skinny = good.’ They didn’t need flavoured lattes and iPhones to keep them sane. To be ‘liked’ was to be a decent person with a lot of friends, Facebook could maybe have been gleaned to be a word for falling asleep face-first in a good novel and a tweet was a noise a bird made.

Life was simpler then, for sure. Whether this is a good or a bad thing would be a much bigger discussion. I’m certainly not saying I want to live in a world where I daren’t aim high with my career and be expected to function as a normal human being without a skinny two-shot latte at the beginning of each day—but I do feel that there’s a lot we millennials can learn from this era. There’s no doubt about that. So here’s a few nuggets of wisdom that my grandparents have peppered into conversation throughout my life that I’d like to share with you—and feel free to add your own in the comments!

“Smile though your heart is breaking”.

My granddad believes that there is a song for every occasion—but of course, his mental bank of song titles is a little different from my own (although obviously there’s so much hidden wisdom in the songs we grew up partying to… ahem). His favourite one is “Smile Though Your Heart is Breaking”—yep, whether he’s disappointed because England lost the football game or because my nan won’t let him buy a fancy new camera, there’s a twinkle in his eye and a throwback to his main man Nat King Cole. There’s more we can take from this, though—it says a lot about the dogged resilience of his generation and the way they managed to find love and happiness in a time when their (post-war) society was in dire straits.

Document memories.

So, the olds were born into a generation who weren’t obsessed with posting their lunches on Instagram and updating their profile pictures every other day, but I’m talking about print, print, print. My granddad has the most gorgeous album full of snaps from when he was a wee baby to when my dad and his siblings were growing up; my grandma’s parents were fortunate enough to own one of the first home video cameras, so we have some fascinating footage of little baby Monica ambling around on the family lawn in nappies. We can complain about the millennial obsession with self-documentation all we want—but remember, keepsakes of happy memories are the best treasure you can leave for future generations. All the more reason to stay snap happy!

Stay active.

When I was little, we took family trips to walk through forests and hike up mountains, and despite my grandparents’ age, they never held back. They have always been active and I thoroughly believe this is the key secret to their longevity and health. It was my grandfather who, on my (American) boyfriend’s first morning in England this summer, dragged our asses out of bed and got us walking across the beautiful English hills to an old Roman fort. Start while you’re young: walk instead of driving, go for long bike rides instead of the movies on dates, and just make sure you keep getting your butt out of bed in the morning and keep it moving all day long.

Love those leftovers.

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Without fail, when my granddad sits down to tuck into a round of toast, he leans over and drawls, “You know, back in the day, we were only allowed butter or jam with our tea” (because, of course, he comes from an era when Brits really did sit down and ‘take’ afternoon tea). But yes: anyone with grandparents from the WWII era will know that rationing had a huge impact on their lives and really instilled a mindset of scrimping and saving that we tend to ignore these days, when you can walk into the supermarket for some corn flakes and be overwhelmed with about 50 different brands of breakfast cereal. Save the leftovers, use up the scraps, be frugal. Eat for energy, rather than out of boredom. Ask yourself if you really need to buy three different kinds of cookies when you’re at the supermarket—better yet, make your own. You’ll save money, of course, but it’s also just incredibly refreshing to go back to basics in life.

“Life isn’t all beer and skittles.”

This is another favourite of Grandpa Longworth’s wisdom; he’ll sigh and say, “Life isn’t all beer and skittles living with your nan, you know.” It’s adorable, yes, but it’s also just a great motto. He means that life won’t all be fun and games; it’s as simple as that. And when we millennials have often grown up to believe that life will be laid out for us on a plate, it’s a pretty sobering (but brilliant) piece of advice.

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What have you learned from your grandparents? Let us know in the comments section or by tweeting us @litdarling!

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  • Could you please elaborate on this?: “Back in those days, women didn’t grow up hating their bodies because it had been conditioned into them from the moment they picked up their first Barbie doll that the one true equation to happiness was that ‘skinny = good.'”

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