"Grammy, what does it feel like to be almost 80 years old?"
The question came up at the dinner table, in between mouthfuls of crab leg drenched in melted butter. I don't know what it was about that particular night, but for some reason in that moment I just had to know.
I'll never forget the look on my grandmother's face. It was an expression that's nearly impossible for me to put into words. It literally felt like I was watching her life flash before her eyes. After a very long pause, Grammy took a breath and answered.
"It feels... impossible. If that makes sense."
Over the course of a few seconds, our laughter-infused seafood dinner conversation had gotten pretty deep. I wanted to know more, but I had to figure out how to go about it -- and fast.
Minutes later, after the crab shells and butter-stained newspapers that once lined the table had been thrown away, Grammy found herself in the backyard, sitting in a chair across from my sister, Cailin and me. I held a small voice recorder in my hand, and my sister had a notebook and pen waiting patiently in her lap. We were prepared to lead an episode of Piers Morgan's Life Stories: Grammy Ball Edition. The sun was sinking beneath the horizon, though the near-summer air remained warm, as I delivered my first question.
"What has been the most memorable moment of your life so far?"
"I think the birth of my sons. It's the ultimate joy to see a new person come into the world that you helped create."
That was an easy one. The next one would be a little more difficult.
"Do you have any regrets?"
Grammy surprised me by answering, before I even finished the sentence, with an incredibly firm and quick "no." She continued.
"I have no regrets in my life. "
Of course, I wanted to know her secret to living nearly eight decades and having no regrets.
"My secret is being true to yourself and... maybe living each day to its fullest. But I have no regrets. There's not one thing I would do differently."
Cailin was feverishly taking notes on the bench next to me, recording every word Grammy said. I asked her what advice she would give to her teenage self.
Don't sweat the small stuff. There are so many things, just this week, that I've heard you girls talk about, you know, this person and that person, that in the great scheme of things really don't matter. I think that's what I'd tell myself. I remember crying over silly things when I was your age and I think now, how silly was I. Getting all upset over those things. I would go back and tell myself not to sweat the small stuff.
Cailin asked Grammy how you can tell the difference between the small stuff and the not-so-small-stuff.
My theory now is that if it's not life threatening, it's no big deal. Sometimes the things that you think are big things really are not. You make a mountain out of a molehill. As you go through this process of living, you'll learn the difference between the two. You will encounter monumental crises in your life. Nobody's life is perfect. Life is about recognizing what is worth getting worked up over -- and it's not some silly boyfriend or something. When you're a teenager, things like that feel like such a crisis.
She proceeded to tell a story of a breakup she went through straight out of high school. I asked her if it felt like the end of the world at the time.
Oh heavens, yes! And now we both laugh about it! That's another thing I'd tell my teenage self -- you gotta laugh every day. You have to laugh at something. Even if you have to laugh at yourself. I think that's what keeps you going, to have a sense of humor. You can't take life too seriously. Sometimes there are things that you just can't do anything about, and all you can do is laugh and make the best of it.
Cailin and I thanked Grammy for the interview, and the three of us headed through the now-starlit night back inside. I was ready to take on the world with an all-new outlook on life, and though the sky now completely lacked light, my heart was full.