An Open Letter to Two of the Most Important People in my Life

Isabelle Johnson - Senegal


February 23, 2018

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Dear Grandma Mary & Grandma Peggy,

Maybe the most important thing my gap year has done is open my eyes to the importance of family. I have witnessed countless sacrifices made in the name of family, and unwavering love & respect for relatives during my time here. 

I have always been aware of how great I have had it growing up where I did, in a Northwoods paradise constantly supported and loved by an amazing group of people. I am proud of the last names Johnson, Linder, Weisneer, Wonn, and Wagner because in the small towns where I grew up they represent an honest, hard-working, kind, community-minded, passionate, and selfless group of people with unwavering love for their family & friends. 

The amazing examples I have witnessed from my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can all be tracked back to two individuals in particular. I have always been acutely aware of my love for both of you. These last seven months have been surreal because I am only able to connect with you both every few weeks or so. Your presence in my daily life is continuously evident, however, and I thought I would use this platform & these short letters to just to remind you that you never leave my mind. 

Grandma Mary, 

You are so kind, spiritual, and passionate about everything you believe in. Your passion fuels you through each day and through every interaction with those around you. You are incredibly understanding, open-minded and overflowing with love for all creatures (both human and otherwise). I could sit and chat with you for hours and hours, and that is one thing I've missed the most by being away from you. Just being next to you has a calming effect on me, as it does on almost everyone that has ever known you. 

You have supported me 100% through all of my travels, and inspire me to travel more and see the world through a different lens.  

I remember sitting for hours on your living room floor constructing "kitchen angels" out of hand towels and oven mitts to fund my first experience abroad to Australia. You have supported me in more ways than I can say through not only my travels, but also through all of my struggles, hesitations, learning-experiences and celebrations. 

Every time I have left home in the last 5 years you have handed me a huge stack of letters. They are filled with love, encouragement, stories, photos, and reminders of the important things. You'll never know how much this has pushed me forward over the years, and how I read & reread your letters every other day. 

You were my second mom when I lived with you in high school. You dealt with my refusal to do homework or take my vitamins, disastrous mornings before picture day, late nights & early mornings, my attitude, and let's not forget the boyfriends that would drop me off too late. I know it wasn't easy, but it made us so much closer. Thank you for going through all of that with me. I'll get together with childhood friends I haven't seen for years, and your name always comes up. You are "Grandma Mary" to so many people other than your grandchildren.

Hard work is second nature for you, after raising 4 kids alone along with succeeding everyday working full-time. I would also like you to know how grateful I am that you worked so hard for so long to make sure my great-grandma was as present in our lives as she was up until I turned 18. You'll never know how impactful it was to know and grow up with my great-grandmother by my side, and it wouldn't have been possible without all of the sacrifices you made for years and years. I love you with everything. 

Grandma Peggy, (Crazy Grandma)

You are one of the most intelligent and surprising women I've ever known. Every time we talk, I learn something new and fascinating about your life. Your perspective on the world is incredibly unique, and you have always been first on my list to call if I need some real and honest advice. I feel like you have always believed in the concept of "tough love", and that is something I have come to appreciate after living here. 

I will never forget the day I had to decide whether or not to come to Senegal. I called you seeking some level-headed advice, knowing you wouldn't hesitate to tell me if you believed it was a ridiculous idea. You cut me off halfway through my explanation and told me that no matter what I needed to follow my heart, and that you thought that this was an experience I needed to have. You have supported me every second of every day since I first came into the world. I don't think you ever missed a hockey game, even when I was so small all I did was slide around the ice on my hands and knees. I will always be grateful that I have been able to look up into those bleachers and see your face. 

You helped teach me how to drive, how to watch for cops, and when to know if the speed limit is just a suggestion or the real deal. 

You started "grandma days" probably around 8 years ago, when you would pile all your grandchildren (from the prepubescents to the babies) into your car and travel with them once a week. We would hike up North, take train trips, go swimming, to the movies, mini-golf, you name it. Although many of our busy lives have consumed our schedules, you still continue this tradition with the youngest kids, and I know how positively this is affecting them. 

The amount of work you have done for our small little town since you moved there years and years and years ago is so inspiring. You are the reason I am so passionate about where I come from. I crave the conversations with you that could go on forever, and I end up learning more about you every time we sit down. I love you with everything. 

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I can't explain enough how grateful I am for you both.  The briefness of this letter does not even begin to make up for everything you have done for me.

You have taught me so much about life, about myself and about how to truly love this life & those in it. 

I need to write a book on you both one day, titled "How To Be a Grandma", a guide for those it doesn't come naturally to. If I am just half of the role model to someone else like you both have been to me, I will have succeeded in my life. 

See you in less than 2 months!!!!

Isabelle Johnson