Lessons from my Grandma

Grandma Pearl fly as ever — with her Budweiser in hand!

This is where it all started. Pearlie Mae Smalls was a force to be reckoned with. She would feed you until you felt you had to be rolled out of the house, bet you to try to out-drink her, and cuss you out for any random reason — all in a 30 minute time frame. But many of my life lessons are from watching her and the wisdom that she shared.

1. Don’t take no wooden nickels!

I was a high school graduate and she had seen me bullied and picked on for most of my childhood. She was so proud of me for learning to finally starting to stand up for and believe in myself. She had no idea that I was still a scared little duckling looking like I had all the confidence in the world but struggling with acceptance and self-esteem on the inside. She sat me down at the table and went in — there was no sugar coating when it came to her. “Peaches, now don’t you take no wooden nickels from them college hoes!” I wasn’t shocked…that was her natural method of communication. I grinned and just enjoyed the conversation. She taught me to believe in me — even when nobody else did. She showed me what it meant to be confident and how to hold my head high even if it hurt like hell on the inside. She taught me to take no shit from ANYBODY!

The party has started!

2. Enjoy the life you have.

My grandma was a party animal. Growing up, she had house parties every weekend — which I later learned were “rent parties” to offset the cost of housing authority payments. She enjoyed the company of friends and family always. She would even call and leave me teary messages like, “You don’t love me no more ’cause you didn’t come over here today!” As she got older, the parties ceased but the company never did. Childhood friends of my uncles, cousins who we still can’t figure out how we’re related, and neighbors all found refuge in her presence. She had a way of taking away your heartache, anger, pain or unhappiness with her sense of humor and her jazzy mouth!


By the time she was 30 years old, my grandmother had already birthed 7 children. So parenting was something she learned to do early on in life. As an extremely young parent, she had to be HARD on her kids. But being strict helped to build character and morality in her children. They know what they couldn’t say around her, they knew what they couldn’t get away with, and they knew that she would hesitate to put her hands on you. I distinctly remember my uncle’s attempt to smart-mouth her one day when he was a teenager. He had just started to really buff up and fill out — looking more like a young man than a little boy. Grandma Pearl told him to clean the bathroom before going to play ball. Well, my uncle wanted to test the waters and mumbled under his breath as he went to the door without cleaning as he was told. Well, it was on! She ran to the kitchen. He ran to the door. She busted through the screen. He bolted for the steps. She threw the cast iron skillet. He got the shit knocked out of him! As she put the cigarette back in her mouth, she calmly said, “What I got for you, you betta DUCK!” There was never a problem figuring out who was in control after that incident.

My grandmother was a housekeeper for all her life. But to me, she was the best unsung, untrained, underpaid teacher I had ever learned from. I am a better me because of the School of Mama P.