Grandmothers

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with my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, 1974

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with my mother and my daughter 2002

I recently read – devoured, more like – Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book, Unfinished Business.  There are a great many points swirling around in my head but one of the foremost ones is in the acknowledgements. Slaughter mentions her first meeting with her editor at Random House. “Tell me about your grandmothers,” the editor asked. Reading that made me gasp.

Tell me about your grandmothers.

I had two simultaneous thoughts.  The first, of Virginia Woolf’s famous quote that “we think back through our mothers, if we are women.”  Indeed.  The second, of my repeated assertion that I come from a formidable matrilineage and of the power of saying the names of the women who came before us.

It’s not a secret that I desperately wanted to have a daughter.  We didn’t find out the gender of either baby before they were born, but I had a strong sense that Grace was a girl.  I didn’t want to say it aloud, though, because I was somehow afraid of jinxing myself.  I wanted a girl for many reasons – I am one of two girls, I adore my own mother, I studied the mother/daughter relationship closely in college – but one of them was certainly wanting to continue what feels like a strong history of women in my family.

And then on October 26, 2002, after a long and difficult labor, she arrived.  And suddenly I had a daughter.  I was a daughter and I had a daughter.  It’s become a familiar thing, at this point, watching my mother with my daughter, but it never gets old.  I do think back through my mother, as Woolf says.  I have written many times of my mother’s expansive warmth, of her magnetism, of how “she has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.”

I have written often of an afternoon soon after Grace’s birth when Mum came over to sit with her while I tried to nap.  Grace was asleep on the third floor of our house, I lay in my bedroom on the second floor, and Mum puttered in the kitchen on the ground floor.  As I lay in my dark bedroom I felt a tangible cord connecting me both up and down, ahead and backwards in time, my place in the generational line firm, determined.  I will never forget the extremely vivid sensation I felt that afternoon of being ensconced between my mother and my daughter.

My grandmothers were formidable too.  Each bright and principled and very different but equally compelling.  I suspect both of my grandmothers would have had careers, if that was more common in their day.  Both graduated from impressive colleges (Middlebury and Wellesley), read voraciously, supported causes they cared about (both my grandmothers were very active in their local chapters of Planned Parenthood), and provided for me terrific examples of strong women who supported husbands and families while having minds of their own.  I feel fortunate to have had such women in my own lineage, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I think of them every day.

I can feel the matrilineage that I come from – that I’m a part of – throbbing in my veins.  It is a very real, almost tangible part of my life.  Sometimes I sense my grandmothers, and others who were dear to me who are now gone, somewhere just beyond the horizon. I know they’re there.  I think back through them, as Woolf says, on a daily basis, the women whose names I can recite reverently:

Susan, Janet, Priscilla, Marion, Marion, Elsie, Eleanor.

And, of course, Grace.

Tell me about your grandmothers?


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10 Comments

  1. Hilary
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    I really, really love that Grammy is entertaining you with measuring spoons. Resourcefulness travels through generations, too. xo

    admin Reply:

    Yes, it’s one of my favorite things about this photo, too! I really, really love that you, the other person with whom I share this matrilineage, commented on this post. Thank you! xox

  2. Posted November 11, 2015 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    The title drew me right in, sending where you were headed. My grandmothers couldn’t be more different. Pauline, my maternal grandmother grew up poor from immigrant parents. She became a working woman by circumstance, not by choice, when her husband died young. Her mental breakdown and hardness affected her children, but somehow my mom came out of that lonesome childhood full of love and generosity. Pauline died young too, early 60s, and sadly full of misery and bitterness. My father’s mother Gloria had an easier time. Marrying the love of her life and not losing him until her 70s, earlier than expected but still. Afterwards she made a new life for herself and lived until her mid 80s, dying because she fell taking out her own garbage. Both were formidable and strong in their own unique ways.

    Thank you for starting my morning with these memories.

    admin Reply:

    Oh I love this brief description and have such a luminous sense of Pauline and Gloria. Just naming them is so powerful, isn’t it? xox

  3. Posted November 11, 2015 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Like Hilary, the first thing I noticed were the spoons. And then the hair. And like Dana, this piece has me thinking of both of my grandmothers- both really strong in their way.

    admin Reply:

    You can see from this photo why I feel genuine grief that neither of my children is a redhead! xox

  4. mia
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Oh, I write this with tears in my eyes — such beautiful words you share. We unexpectedly lost my beautiful mother, my guiding light, a few weeks ago. I woke up at 1:30am that morning, unable to fall back asleep. I learned shortly thereafter this was the time she passed — it was as if the umbilical cord that once connected us was pulling me towards her.

    I let my young daughters know that we all have a bit of my Mom in us, just as we have a bit of my grandmother and great-grandmother — her bright light will be passed from Mother to Daughter across future generations; and our responsibility is to let that light shine.

    admin Reply:

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. The story of your waking up gives me goosebumps. That link is eternal. xox

  5. Posted November 11, 2015 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful tribute. My two grandmas couldn’t have been more different. One was feisty and sassy, the other was polite and loving. Both strong women in their own way. It does pain me sometimes that I don’t have a daughter, but I suppose we are connected to women in other ways as well.

    admin Reply:

    Oh yes – that family linkage runs through us and our boys, too!! xoxox

  6. Posted November 11, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Grandmas! My favorite topic. I love that you researched the mother-daughter relationship, how interesting. The matrilineal line is revered in my family too, and I felt as you did that I would have a daughter. And I ended up with two! Both so different, they actually remind me of my grandmothers: one sweet and doting, the other witty and discerning. Such a joy.

  7. Posted November 11, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    What a great way to look back through your family. All of my grandparents were deceased by the time I was in tenth grade; my maternal grandmother was first and my paternal grandmother was last of all four. I know little about them and my memories are a bit blurred at this point in my life. Truth be told though, I am fairly certain I was never in on the full truth of them (then or now), which saddens me quite a bit. I’m sure there’s a reason, but I think it would be fascinating to know.

  8. Posted November 11, 2015 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Love this post. My grandmothers are both farm wives – hardworking, thrifty, faithful women who worked day jobs and raised their kids and worked alongside their husbands raising crops and cattle. My dad’s mother, Carol, died a few years ago and my mom’s mom, Evelyn, is still with us. They are both strong and scatterbrained and loving. I am so proud to have come from them, and from Sharon (my mom).

  9. Posted November 12, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I love this Lindsey! I, too, feel very connected to my grandmother. She is a rockstar. She is 96 years old, raised 6 kids, worked as a nurse, walked three miles a day until about a year ago, and is my mentor in so many things. She is strong, and caring, and fashionable. I’m currently writing a story about her for my new writing blog, Beacon and Joy (www.beaconandjoy.com — inspired by the streets I used to live at the corner of in Boston).

    Your writing is one of the things that has inspired me to focus more on my writing. I love the way you write and that you keep up on it, even among all the other other things you have going on in your busy life.

    Thank you for sharing about your mother and grandmothers! What cool women you come from!

    xx

    admin Reply:

    Oh, wow! I LOVE that blog name and love the photo you have up there. I look forward to reading more of your work. xoxo

  10. Posted November 13, 2015 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Yes! I’m so fascinated by the connection of daughters to mothers to grandmothers- I love the stories of the ones that came before me. I always try to figure out what of me comes from them. My grandmothers are so different- but if I had to describe them both in one word it would be complicated. Fierce and loving and complicated. Neither are/were the traditional sweet grandmother. Mary Emma Lucile was from the farm- strong, stoic, intense. She cooked these huge farm meals- cornbread and biscuits from scratch, ham and green beans and macaroni and cheese, for starters. Every Sunday the table was full. She was like my second mother.
    Mary Patricia grew up in Souther California. Her mother was the first woman superintendent of schools in California. Her father was a bee-keeper. She met my grandfather at Stanford. They both left during the war, and eventually settled in Texas with 6 kids. She is a writer that never wrote.

    Thank you for sharing about yours. And thank you for making me think about such amazing women this morning.