Last week, I got to spend some quality time with one of the most influential women in my life - my Grandma, Dianna Berry.
Full Disclosure: This post is long, but full of awesome bits to consider in your everyday life. It contains memories, pictures, stories, Q&A, and more, yet I was still not able to fully capture the essence of G'ma.
If you want to get to know the most selfless, accepting person I've ever met, read on, friends! If not, you should still keep reading, because sometimes we need to be reminded of the most important little things in life.
Growing up, my brother and I spent a lot of time with our Grandma Berry. She and my grandpa, Larry, owned a car repair shop & motel in Adel, Iowa. The motel was a long, narrow, 1-story building. The far west side of the building was where she and my grandpa lived, and moving east down the property, were 17 motel rooms. Across the parking lot, my grandpa had what I remember as an enormous, rusty, metal garage, where they held the car repair shop. The property was always a mess of old, rusty, broken down cars that spread all over the front & back yards. They had 2 tow trucks, and a gravel driveway that would accumulate giant mud puddles every time it rained. My grandma managed the motel, and did the accounting, invoicing, etc. while my grandpa ran the garage. They had 2-3 mechanics on staff at all times - all of whom were like family. Every day, Grandma would make a giant lunch to serve to the mechanics, motel tenants and whoever else was nearby with an appetite. Everyone would gather and eat lunch together around their dining room table. The atmosphere was full of love and laughter.
Dan and I spent our summers and many weekends with them, riding bikes through mud puddles, climbing on old rusty trailers, picking mulberries, going rock hunting, listening to Oldies music, writing poems, telling stories, etc. The whole place was like a giant jungle gym (in hindsight, a very tetanus-ridden jungle gym, but fun nonetheless). Dan and I helped my grandma make up the beds in the motel rooms, pick weeds, and make meals for the lunch crew.
People from all walks of life and from all different backgrounds that stayed at their motel and became quick friends of my grandma's. Everyone was welcome, and no one was judged regardless of their mental health, the way they looked, their criminal history, or the amount of money in their bank accounts. Every person was welcome in the Berry household - all thanks to Grandma. Something about her has always brought out the best in everyone.
In addition to all of this, my grandma was a "surrogate" parent for a number of lost youth in the town. Family Christmases & Thanksgivings were always attended by friends and strangers who needed a place to spend their holidays. We were raised to understand that that family does not just mean blood.
Looking back on all of the memories and experiences I've had with my grandma, I owe a lot of who I am today to her. She is an amazing example of unconditional love and acceptance, which is truly refreshing, especially with everything going on in the world.
So, who is this amazing lady??
Dianna was born in 1945 in Southern California, and is the youngest of 4 children. At 5 years old, her father died in a car accident on a curvy mountain road. He was an alcoholic, but all of her memories of him are very fond. Her mother never re-married, and remained a single mother. She owned a restaurant in their town, and worked extremely hard to make ends meet for their family.
"With my mom, it was a real unusual relationship because I was more like her friend too [since] she never remarried. She was the best mom in the world, but she worked. She worked so hard. When I got to be a teenager, it was really hard because she couldn't take me to a lot of places, we didn't do a lot of things. But, my best friend, Travis - her mom and dad took me everywhere. My mom would go to the special things we had. But [she] had to work every day. She had the restaurant. Single parent. You know?"
Dianna married Larry when she was 17, and later moved to Iowa. They had 2 children, Lisa & Bob, and opened the motel years later. They were married for 38 years, before their divorce in the early 2000's. She remembers that leaving my grandpa was the most challenging thing she ever faced in her personal life. She recalled it taking a lot of courage, as she was not confident in her ability to make ends meet on her own after 38 years of leaning on him for support. Although she worked before their marriage, most of her adult life was spent being a mom to 2 children, and running the motel with my grandpa.
Despite the divorce, our family remained close. No one was forced to pick a side, the fighting and drama was very short-lived, and all parties were (and still are) invited to the same family events. Understanding that this is type of inclusion is not typical of most divorces, I asked my grandma why she believes it happened in our family.
"I think it's because of me. (laughs) We had a lot of issues in our relationship. Some of them were bad issues. But, I forgave him. I didn't forget it but I forgave him. I don't hate him. That's the thing. And that - a lot of people don't have."
How powerful is that...?!
18 years post-divorce, my grandma is still living on her own in Ankeny, Iowa, and enjoys spending time with family & friends. Financially, she struggles, but as you will see in our Q&A below, she feels more successful today than she has in her entire life.
Q: If you could share one lesson that you want your children to learn, what would it be?
A: The main thing is just to be accepting. Everybody is different. Just be accepting of people, and realize that everybody in life is going through their own trials and tribulations, and you don't know what they're going through.
Q: What is your definition of success? Do you consider yourself successful?
A: I am successful because I have a good family and I'm happy. I don't have a lot of anything, but what I have is a family. I have them. I love them and they love me. So yes, I am successful.
Q: What did it take for you to become successful?
A: Truthfully? 38 years living with an alcoholic, then drawing the line and saying no more. And, I worked really really hard at bettering myself.
Q: What are 3 things that you know to be true about life?
A: Family means more than anything, I know that there is a God - I have a lot of faith, and, just be true to yourself. You have to like yourself and care about you. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.
Q: If you could go back to when you were in your 20's and 30's, what would you go back and tell yourself?
A: In my 20's and 30's, I'd tell myself that I was pretty stupid. I put up with a lot of things at that age that I shouldn't have. Not physical abuse, but a lot of mental abuse, and just not sticking up for myself. There was always a controlling issue there, and I didn't speak up enough about how I felt about things.
Q: What would you tell other women who are in a similar situation to what you went through?
A: They need to choose their happiness. If they want to be happy, they can be. If you're in a bad situation, and you choose to be in it - you just have to make a choice about what you want to do with your life. You either get out and do something for yourself or stay where you are and be unhappy.
Q: Do you think that people can change?
A: No. I think there are times when you want to or think you can. I think a person's just - you are what you are. If they want to change, they will and can, but you can't go into a relationship thinking, well it's this way now, but it'll change - I can change them.
Q: In your opinion, what do you think makes a successful marriage?
A: Being able to talk and be honest with each other. Talk about everything, whether you agree or disagree.
Q: What would you tell people who think that women can't do the same things as men?
A: I'd tell them that they're crazy! But, a long time ago I wouldn't have. A long time ago, I would have thought I doubt very much that a woman could do X. But, I've seen seen so many women do so many things in my life, and it's changed my perspective.
Q: Why do you think that there are not as many women as men in executive roles?
A: Women are accepted a lot more now, but I think there is enough of a gender bias that still puts women a little lower on the ladder than men. There are still a lot of people out there that think women can't do things as well as men, even though there are a lot who can do it better.
Q: Do you think you can you really "have & do it all?"
A: Do you want it all? I think if you want it all, it's possible. You just have to work hard enough for it.
Q: What final thoughts do you want to share?
A: It's all about attitude. Your attitude is everything. If you approach your day with a nasty attitude, that's what you're going to get out of that day. If you put a smile on and have a good attitude, you'll have a good day. I heard a saying that said, Every day might not be good, but there is something good in every day, and I like that.
To learn more about Dianna, or to ask her additional questions, ask & comment on this post.