It’s been a while since I wrote here. (The last post was actually written in August). This summer has been monumental. I graduated the Kennedy School. I got a new job in a new field. My grandmother died.
My grandmother, the woman I hope to emulate, died at age 91. My grandmother, born two years after the 19th amendment was ratified, saw the world change in ways I can only begin to imagine. At 16, she went to work to help support her family after her father was killed in an accident. At 22, she travelled from Brooklyn to Temple, Texas to marry my grandfather, who was stationed at an army base there. During WWII, she worked for the military; I know from photos that at some point she sold war bonds, but I imagine she had a wide range of jobs. When my mother, the youngest of two, was in elementary school, my grandmother went back to school and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. She taught reading until, as she told it, she could no longer climb the stairs at the school. Then she retired.
She loved fully and devotedly. She was , in all the good ways, the stereotype of a grandmother. She baked brownies, and showered us with gifts and kisses and love. She shepped nachas. She told me over and over again, “I just want you to be happy.” And she meant it.
For most of her 69 years of marriage, she served my grandfather dinner every day, making sure it was ready when he came home. Until she was too frail to serve. Then my grandfather served meals and became her caretaker. Even then, she wanted to help out with preparing for holiday meals, and was frustrated when she couldn’t. But she could still offer advice, and food, and love to everyone. And she did.
My Grandma Miriam was a woman of her era and of every era she lived through. It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: I miss her terribly.
* * *
Today, I was in the LOFT dressing room staring at myself in the large shared mirror, trying to evaluate a suit. A woman holding her granddaughter–a tiny baby wrapped in a pink blanket–looked on. “That’s a nice suit,” she said. Do you wear suits to work?”
“I think so. I haven’t started the job yet.”
“That’s the kind of suit that the young women wear in my office,” she said. “I’m a corporate attorney.” We talked about suit jacket options, and she congratulated me on getting a job.
“She’s beautiful,” I said, motioning to the baby. How old is she?”
“One week. My daughter needed new jeans.”
On cue, her daughter came out for an opinion on a pair of jeans.
“Can I ask you something else? Is this shirt is too low?” I asked the grandmother. It wasn’t.
“I would wear that to work, and I’m a corporate executive,” the daughter said.
I changed back into my own clothes, and congratulated the women on the baby. They congratulated me on the job. I bought the suit, shirt and all.
* * *
As far as I remember, I never went clothes shopping with my grandmother. Maybe I did, when I was a tiny baby wrapped in pink and my mother needed a new pair of pants.
The last time I visited my grandmother in her house, I came bearing a brand new dress that I planned to wear to my graduation. I modeled it for her and got her approval. She told me I looked good in it and that it wasn’t too short. “That’s how you know it really looks good,” my sister said. “Grandma would never tell you it looked good if it didn’t.” True.
As I write out today’s dressing-room conversation, it seems utterly mundane, but I think that’s why it thrilled me: the normality of the high-powered women, the way they were willing to offer fashion advice, which really was also career advice. The tiny, third-generation strong woman resting in her grandmother’s arms, still completely unaware of the blessings of the strong women that came before her. The blessings I am so lucky to have.
My mother, me, and my grandmother.