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Lessons for a good and happy life

August 13, 2008|By KELLY MORENO

My grandmother, Clarice Tarr, would have turned 98 years old this month. This special lady died last December at the age of 97, after a long and interesting life.

Though we did clash at times, she was always my favorite person. People have said that we were very much alike, which I consider a compliment. Though I admit I don't always apply what I learned, she certainly taught me a lot. This is just some of what I learned from my grandmother.

Stay active: Up until she was in her 80s, she mowed grass and tended flowers in her yard, in addition to doing all the housework in her three-bedroom home. When it snowed, she insisted on shoveling her steps and driveway (even though she never drove a car. She said it was in case anyone came over; she wanted to be sure they could get in). Even in her 90s, she did as much as she could manage.

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Use your mind: To keep her brain sharp, she read mystery books, and did crossword puzzles and word search games. She watched "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" every day. Though she never finished high school, she knew most of the answers (or should I say questions?) on "Jeopardy!". When I asked her "How do you know all this stuff?", she'd say "Oh, I don't know - I guess I just picked it up over the years."

Be friendly and outgoing: She wouldn't hesitate to start a conversation with someone, just because she was curious and interested. To her, a stranger was just a friend she hadn't met. And since people warmed to her refreshing candor, humor, and genuine interest, she made lots of friends.

Do things that you enjoy: She baked, made candy, sewed, and embroidered many wonderful items for family, friends, and her church, but she was best known for her knitting and crocheting. She produced gorgeous afghans, baby clothes, sweaters, and dishcloths that I always said were too pretty to use. She loved yarn so much that she actually had an entire room for her yarn collection. She never went anywhere without her knitting bag or a book, so she was never bored.

Be kind to animals: Many a stray cat found its way to her door, and she always made sure the cats were well cared for. When a homeless cat had three kittens under her house, she fretted until she got me to crawl under the house to get "Mama Cat" and the babies and take them to the vet. She called the babies Eeny, Meeny, and Miny ( "no Mo", she said). I found homes for the kittens, and Grandmother kept Mama Cat for the rest of her life.

Have a sense of humor: She said funny things all the time, like "Make yourself useful as well as ornamental" (good advice, actually), and if someone had a backache, she'd innocently offer to "rub it with the soft side of a brick." Sometimes laughing through the pain in life is all you can do.

Think of others less fortunate: In spite of a very tight budget and various health problems, she gave to various charities, donated lovely handmade items to church bazaars and worked at church rummage sales, served in a soup kitchen, and delivered Meals on Wheels. No matter how bad things might seem, there is always someone worse off than you.

Appreciate nature: She often commented on "how pretty our mountains are today," or "what beautiful sunsets we have" - things I probably wouldn't notice if she didn't point them out. Now I try to watch the sunset every day.

Keep a little bit of the child inside you: A doll or a stuffed toy always brought a smile to her face. She enjoyed the beach, amusement parks and Disney movies. We're never too old to have fun and enjoy the little pleasures in life.

Work hard and be independent: She worked at whatever jobs she could do. Unless she really couldn't manage to do something on her own, she didn't ask for help.

Last but not least, she had strong faith in God. She was grateful for all her blessings, and never started a meal without first saying Grace.

When she was born, on Aug. 20, 1910, she weighed only 2 pounds and was not expected to live. The story Grandmother told was that she was placed in a shoebox lined with cotton, and the doctor told her father he'd better "send for the preacher, and give this child a name before she dies." Grandmother liked to end the story with "I fooled them, didn't I?"

Yes, she certainly did, and I think the world is a better place because of her.

Kelly Moreno is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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