I began an essay several years ago with this line: I am grandmotherless. Now, of course, I am grandparentless. But that’s new. At my college graduation I had four healthy grandparents (see above), and at our wedding I had three. I’m fortunate that my grandparents were well into my adulthood, and I cherish the relationships I had with all four of them. I wish my grandmothers had met Grace and Whit.
I know my grandmother Gaga (who was married to Pops) would have loved to have met the first-born daughter of her first-born granddaughter. She mothered four boys, with a keen sense of humor and a frankly brilliant mind. A few years ago, after Whit was born, Pops sent me several pages of thoughts on raising boys that she had typed years ago. I learned a lot.
Gaga, however, made no secret of her enthusiasm when her first grandchild (me) was a girl. There were a lot of dolls, ruffles, and skirts at my grandparents’ house in Long Island with the curving driveway and bench-style swing in the back yard. And I loved it. I wish Grace could meet her, pull out the huge wicker basket of dolls and doll clothes, play with the mirror that simulated outdoor and indoor light in her dressing room, curl up against one of her pillows with arms to giggle at her reading Erma Bombeck, admire her fierce intellect and interest in medicine, which she’s inherited.
I also wish Grace could have met Nana, my mother’s mother, who was tall and elegant and who, it seemed to me, glided rather than walked. I wish she could sit in the deep white chair on the screened-in back porch, smile at the zinnias cut from the garden that were always on Nana and Ba’s boat, Fleetwing, and eat corn that Bad had cut from their garden once the water on the stove was boiling, heard stories about her passionate love for her alma mater, Middlebury.
So much about Nana’s personality, and her quiet but powerful faith, is summed up with the hymn we sang at her funeral, Simple Gifts. When I look up at the ceiling above the altar in church, it’s Nana I think about. I wish Nana could know that Grace, my first-born child, carries her name, the name that is both Mum’s and my middle name. Maybe she does know.
There’s something primal in my visceral sense of my grandmothers’ and mother’s blood beating in my veins, and in Grace’s. Hand over hand, generation to generation, we pass down more legacies than we can count. Big and small, conscious and not, these lessons accumulate and shape our sense of the world. I’ve written more than once of my powerful awareness of matrilineage, of the importance of naming the chain of women from which we are descended. I come from Susan, Priscilla, Janet, Marion, Marion, Elsie, Eleanor
I will always remember these names. They are where I come from. Where do you come from?