As we get a little closer to the holiday season, after a year filled with elections, dissonance, work and travel, I have found myself thinking about memories of family and friends from years gone by. This sweet story is from a wonderful and memorable holiday dinner with the most charming of women, “Bubbie” Stone.
I got to know “Bubbie” a few years ago when she was living with her granddaughter Andrea. Pete and Andrea, along with their kids, are close friends with our family and our kids have gone to school together for years. “Bubbie” at that time was a great grandmother who was in her late 90’s, less than five feet tall, and filled with a wonderful outgoing spirit. We had the pleasure of being invited over for dinner a few times when “Bubbie” was still alive, each time it was an evening of love, laughter, great food and wonderful stories. It was on one of those evenings that I received “Bubbie’s” ultimate compliment.
Somehow that evening we got on the topic of work/careers and “Bubbie” asked me a number of questions about what I did for a living. After fumbling through a clumsy description of a 20+ year corporate career in marketing and sales and how I had recently gone to work for a private equity owned produce company in California, she turned her questions and attention to another person at the table and the flow of conversation continued on. I did not think much about that part of the night until we were getting ready to leave and I was bending down to give “Bubbie” a hug good night. Without hesitation she looked straight up at me (remember that I am 6’ 2’’ and she was about 4’10’’) and said, you know what you are young man, you are a “Mensch!”
Having grown up in a Lutheran family from a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I didn't have any “cultural competency” to know if “Bubbie’s” pronouncement was positive or negative. I paused and asked if that was a good thing or bad, and quickly “Bubbie” said that it was a very good thing! She asked me three questions to solidify her point of view:
1) Do you work?
2) Do you make money?
3) Do you take car of your family?
That was it, “Bubbie’s” three requirements to being a “mensch.” Well I answered each question with a solid “yes”, this time skipping any of the 20+ year corporate/private equity details. It was a simple set of questions, my answers were true, and in the wise eyes of this tiny, charming woman I had passed an important test. I was a “mensch!” What an unexpected compliment, a holiday gift, from such an unexpected source; but here I am years later literally cherishing that moment and that memory.
I share this sweet story from a holiday now years in the past to be a reminder of the touching memories that come from surprising places. Additionally I share it as a point of reference of what does success “look like” from a voice of wisdom near the end of her life. We live in a society that seems to value so many fleeting ego-driven, money centric examples of notoriety and success that “Bubbie’s” three questions seem cute or maybe old fashioned. I for one am proud to have been called a “mensch” by “Bubbie,” maybe now more than ever!
I hope that you can find some time this holiday season, away from the work demands/pressures, for family and friends. Take the time to enjoy a meal with others and you never know, you might just meet your own “Bubbie” and receive a holiday gift/blessing that will warm you heart for years to come!