You Can Learn A Lot From a Grandma and a Killer Whale

Grandmas and killer whales are like guinea pigs and gerbils. You can say one and mean the other, and it really doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, both guinea pigs and gerbils are rodents who eat hay. You see, like a good grandma, female killer whales are mammals who become leaders late in life.

Long after menopause, grandmas (insert killer whales here) share their wisdom and experience with younger family members, playing a key role in helping the young find food — especially when Mommy is on a date night!

In fact, grandmas and killer whales are the only known animals to outlive their fertility. In other species, the mother dies not long after the last child. (Whew. Glad I’m human!) That’s one reason why anthropologists believe grandmothers are so key to human evolution. Yes, science backs up what we already know to be true: Grandma is critical to the survival of children, passing on generations of knowledge — and thank God, she can come help out with the grandkids in a pinch!

Grandma Stella Me & Kirkham
Grandma Stella in a rare moment, relaxing as I feed my oldest son, Kirkham (now 6). Grandma Stella is the only great-grandparent who got to love and hold any of my children. As I feed my child, her great-grandson, I sense she’s thinking like a female killer whale: “My job here is almost done.”

I certainly believe in the incredible gift of growing up near Grandma. My fairy-tale childhood was spent on our three-generation family farm just down the road from Grandma Stella. I distinctly remember my Grandma Stella’s swift arm with an axe. To this day, I can picture the bloody stump where she’d end the lives of our chickens. She taught me that chickens really do run with their heads cut off. And yes, Grandma and the killer whale really do have a lot in common!

Truthfully — and I know you’d say this about your Grandma too — my Grandma Stella was one of a kind. Let’s call her Paula Bunyan, because this woman worked harder than any man, woman or machine of her time. In the heat of summer, she was known to stack bales of heavy hay six high for hours on end in a dark, dusty barn. This, my urban friends, is the equivalent of stacking couches on Atlanta asphalt at a July yard sale!

Seriously, this incredible woman could plant, grow, harvest, and can or freeze more sweet corn, blackberries, potatoes, tomatoes, and every green vegetable under the sun than the mega-Kroger can shelf in a year. And she could do it all with a giggle sweeter than honey.
And get this: Grandma Stella birthed seven children, who then birthed 1,000 grandchildren — ok, truth be told, I actually lost count of how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But this great woman clearly left her mark on this green Earth.

God bless Grandma Stella, because we are all survivors because of her. Her love of a hard day’s work and a good giggle have gotten me through many Mommy meltdowns as I ask myself, “What would Grandma Stella do?” Well, she’d put her head down and work a little harder and giggle a little louder.

Sadly, I can’t say I know how to can tomatoes like Grandma Stella today. (Aunt Sarah can!) But I can say Grandma Stella is alive and well here in Atlanta, Georgia, 552 miles from my childhood home.

Just today, my boys bought their seeds for our urban garden plot — a 10-foot-by-10-foot pile of Home Depot cow dung. We may not harvest much of anything, but these boys are already planning their plot with the heart of Grandma Stella. They tore out their notepads and drew a custom calendar to count down the days until their seeds would be ready for their first harvest. Mommipop! I snapped this photo below to capture the moment. You may just see Crayola crayons here, but I see nothing but Grandma Stella hard at work, eager to plant and predicting a good harvest.

Kirkham & Boone plot gardens 2017
Kirkham and Boone making custom garden calendars, counting down the days until harvest.

And my, oh my, Grandma Stella, with all your grandkids spread between Denver and Doha, Qatar, what a harvest you’ve sown!

Now I can’t write about grandmas and killer whales without mentioning my brilliant Grandma Agnes, who inspired my career as a journalist. What Grandma Stella could do with bales of hay, Grandma Agnes could do with words. So Grandma Agnes, tonight I ask you: “If you had a lot more to say about your grandma, but not enough time to write it, what would you do?”

Sorry, Grandma Agnes just told me to go to sleep. God bless her killer wit.


  1. Mary Bubash

    Awesome story about Grandma Stella and killer whales. So many beautiful memories! Reminded me of a beautiful Grandma story that I told today, while sharing coffee with friends at the YMCA. She continues to share her wisdom in very subtle ways.

  2. emilypmiller

    I’d love to hear your Grandma story one day, Aunt Mary! Thanks for your note and for all your planning last summer to get the Probst cousins together… many more beautiful memories to be made!

  3. Mary Bubash

    I would be happy to share with you. It’s a true story about her intervention when I was praying her rosary. I often hear that praying the rosary is powerful, but more so if those rosary beads were prayed many times. Maybe I will tell that story at our next family reunion.

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