24 October, 2008

Friday Favorite Grandmother Memories

Obama's grandmother may not make it to Election Day. He's spending the next couple of days with her, and then sacrificing their last precious moments together so that America has a fighting chance at a future.

"We're all praying and we hope she does, but one of the things I want to make sure of is I had a chance to sit down with her and to talk to her. She's still alert and she's still got all her faculties. And I want to make sure that I don't miss that opportunity," he said.


Obama said his grandmother has been inundated with phone calls, e-mails and flowers from strangers.

"And so maybe she is getting a sense of, of long-deserved recognition at — toward the end of her life," Obama told ABC.

I'm picturing here there, surrounded by flowers, sitting with her grandson, and I can imagine her pride in him. I'm not sure if she realizes just how much of this epic moment in American history is due to her. Grandmothers don't often take the credit they deserve. They're too busy adoring their grandkids.

Without Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama wouldn't be the man he is today. He may not have had the compassion, judgement, wisdom and vision to become the president America needs. I can never thank her enough for the hope she's given us.

So I want to take this moment to celebrate grandmothers. I want them to know just how cherished they are.


I wouldn't even remember my paternal grandmother if my parents hadn't hauled me back to Indiana just before she died. At six, I didn't understand that breast cancer was eating her alive. She seemed eternal to me. She made me fearless.

Her arm was a huge, swollen red mass - she jokingly called it an elephant's leg. She suffered extreme hot flashes. But she smiled through all of that pain and discomfort. She lavished affection on me, making me feel like I was the precise center of the universe. I remember her grace in those last weeks. I remember her strength. I remember doing dishes with her (not that I was much help!), marveling at the ceramics she'd made, beautiful teapots and cups painted with cheery colors and forget-me-nots. She seemed like the archetypical grandma, and I was in love.

The clearest memory I have of those magical weeks was the afternoon when she was bedridden. When I was sick, my mom read me stories, so of course I'd do the same for her. I plopped myself down on an old wooden chair by her bed, and labored through some silly story in one of my schoolbooks. She listened with rapt attention, as if those simple sentences were the greatest works in the English language, and I the most eloquent reader of them all.

Midway through the story, one of the family members barged in to ask a question. My grandmother reared up on an elbow. Her "SHHH!" rebounded off the walls. "Dana's reading to me!"

Oh, how proud I felt! Nothing on earth meant more to her than having her granddaughter reading to her. No one was more important than a six year-old girl with a book in hand. I really am a good reader, I realized! The family member backed out with a grin, and I finished reading the whole book, feeling that I was doing something unique and incredibly special, reassured in my skill.

I already had a strong love of books, but that moment is what etched into my soul forever the power of stories. On that day, I became a storyteller.


Memories of my maternal grandmother aren't so concentrated. We had many more years together. We lived too far apart to be close in a daily sort of way, but no time or distance mattered. Neither did forwarning. One night, my parents and I were lazing in front of the TV when the front door flew open. For a wild instant, as we scrambled to our feet and the dogs barked, we thought we were being robbed. But no - it was just my grandma, barging through the door with a pillow and a bag, marching triumphantly into the house. She and my grandfather had decided to drive half a continent just to surprise us. The shock and joy at her successful trick delighted her.

She had a laugh that made me glow. I remember standing on our back porch with her, gazing at the mountains that reared up over the forest beyond our back yard. "Grandma, how can you live in a place where you can't look at mountains every day?" I demanded suddenly. She just laughed, and tried to tell me that Indiana had its own beauties, but all I could hear was that half-sigh, half-chuckle, beaming deep in my being like a personal sun.

She never did convince me Indiana was better than Arizona. She did, however, introduce me to the glories of shopping. She bought me my first silk scarf, which was the most exotic thing I could ever imagine. I thought only sultans and princesses in distant lands got silk. To this day, whenever I buy something woven from silk, I remember that square of brilliantly-colored material that she placed in my hands.

One of the last times I saw her was when she placed another exotic item in my hand: a sparkler. We were in her back yard in Indiana in late August, and the relations had been out buying fireworks. I was sixteen, and I'd never held one before. They're illegal in Arizona - light a sparkler, and the whole state could go up in flames. I remember her standing on the porch, handing sparklers to grandkids and sending us out to draw designs in the air with silver fire. There's nothing quite like a grandmother's contented expression when she's watching a yard full of grandkids having the time of their young lives.

My grandmothers gave me a sense of wonder, and a center of hope and love that I've carried with me through a lifetime. Those memories of them are among the most precious I have.

Grandmothers are unique. We're lucky to have them.


Cobalt said...

I didn't grow up with much of an extended family, but this entry was beautiful. Thanks for giving me a glimpse into what these women meant to you.

My favorite memories of my great-grandmother are stories my mother relayed to me. She was one of those very old woodswomen who had some odd ideas but some startlingly progressive ones.

She loved science. When my mother's sister got a breast reduction, Grammie was amazed. "Lookit that!" she said. "They can do anything nowadays. Look at 'em they ain't deformed or nothing. You gonna get one of those?" she asked my mother. My mom, more modestly endowed, answered, "Grammie are you kidding?!"

The other awesome story about her is how glad she was that I was living with this boyfriend of mine before I married him. That was a real shocker. As she said, "You gotta know before you make promises. You gotta make sure you know." A lot of the younger women in Grammie's family have married the wrong men, so she knew what she was talking about. She had another opinion to add for my mother, though.

"She better be careful, though! Make sure she don't get pregnant, 'cuz they got PILLS for that now, y'know!"

I can count the people in my family worth talking to on one hand, and she was one of them. She did a lot of good for my family, but I think I'll remember her for breast reductions and birth control pills.

Nicole said...

Thanks so much for sharing! I'll be posting about me own grandmums on Love, Ink, & Scraps.