Idabelle came from a small farm just outside of Norman, OK, and was the oldest of five children. At age 14 her father died in a wood stove fire and circumstances demanded that she assume the leadership position in the family. She ran the farm, bailed the hay…you name it, she could do it.
Idabelle loved her father, but had a rather contentious relationship with her mother, and at age 17 decided it was time to leave. She boarded a train in 1912 and headed to Chicago with her 8th grade education and Oklahoma farm wisdom.
Upon arrival, Idabelle decided that she wanted to become a lawyer, so she applied and was accepted to Law School. For reasons which are currently unclear, she did not complete her studies and next moved to Detroit, another Midwestern boom town. There, Idabelle worked as a clerk for a prominent lawyer. Because of her training, and the fact that he was a drunk, she tried most of his cases in court, winning many.
Later, she met Ralph and they married. Ralph was a gregarious insurance salesman who had climbed the ladder to middle management. Together they studied the insurance agency business and eventually started one of their own in Flint, Michigan.
There seemed to be nothing that Idabelle could not do. Give her a scrap of fabric and her sewing machine and a beautiful outfit would appear…. She even took up bowling at the age of 65 after Ralph died, just to get herself out of the house. After joining a bowling league, she soon had a room filled with trophies, commonly bowling over 200. A few years later, her arthritis was so severe she could no longer bowl with her right hand. Her solution? Start bowling with her left hand! And she soon started to dominate the league once again.
Idabelle was short, barely five feet tall, soft spoken and humble. When she laughed it was from the belly, and never at you, just with you. She had this look…this twinkle in her eye that said…”I believe in you”. She was my grandmother, and in my young world, she walked on water and could make it too. She shared her strengths with my mother who could have easily run GM with one hand tied behind her back. But instead, she (in spite of a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education) chose to raise her three children instead. Two of us became dentists and my sister, became the CFO of the Indianapolis Zoo.
To me that was a truly liberated woman looked like… powerful, confident, in control, but never needing to show it. From them I learned that I was loved, but also that I was nothing special. And that the only way I was going to get ahead in life was to try twice as hard and to never give up.
Avrom King liked to call this aspect of character “grit. And grit is made not born. It is often born out of failure and the confidence which arises through overcoming it time and time again. It is also emerges from a strongly clarified self-concept facilitated by exceptional parenting. And it makes life easier, as it eliminates a lot of bad choices right out of the gate. “No, that simply does not work for me”…those kinds of choices.
Not that long ago, grit was everywhere, but I did not realize it until I started to tell others about my amazing grandmother.And when I did, people would say…”Wow! That’s pretty amazing! Now, let me tell you what mine did!”
Our culture has gotten off-track to a very significant degree…And by choice. But with just a little bit more grit, the corner can still be turned and the sun will shine again. And in spite of it being unfashionable to take chances, work hard, and assume responsibility for our decisions and actions, it is still the surest way to the top.