life in and around NYC is insane

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bubba meinster time

Sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the woman I knew with the child who was the heroine of my grandmother's stories.  But there are reasons...

The young girl in the village, the one who jumped in the lake and swam away, leaving her "frenemy" stranded in the boat, grew up to be a woman who was afraid of deep water.  Seems that she went to Coney Island once and swam in the ocean, and was knocked over by a big wave...


A lot of what I know about my grandmother isn't from her stories.  It's from information my mother and aunts gave me, about things my grandmother rarely talked about.

Despite my grandmother's charming story about eloping to City Hall, I don't know what year my grandparents got married.  I know that when I searched on ancestry.com I found my grandparents in the 1930 Census, living in the Bronx.

I know that they had heartbreak early on.  Whenever we'd go to the cemetery to pay our respects, my grandmother would visit the grave of her eldest child, an unnamed baby boy who died the day he was born.  And I heard that she was terrified when she was expecting my mother.

My mother was about 10 years old, and her sisters were 8 and 3, when my grandfather died.    It was 1943.  He had a stroke one morning and my grandmother had to run to a neighbor's house to call an ambulance, in those days a lot of people didn't have a phone in their home.  My mother tells me that he knew he had high blood pressure, that he discovered his condition when he applied to go to Greenland or Alaska or wherever as a civilian construction worker and he couldn't pass the physical.

My grandmother didn't speak about those years, raising three young girls on her own.  I know she was on welfare for awhile, and that she also worked off the books as a cook occasionally.  I know she went off welfare when my mother graduated from high school --- the social worker told her that my mother could not go to college, that my mother had to go to work to help support the family.  (My mother went to Hunter College and worked part time.)

I think my grandmother's proudest moment was when she became a US citizen.  March 1, 1948 (yes, I have the records).    She had applied before but was turned down, as the INS couldn't find a record of her legally entering the country -- there was a mix up on Ellis Island, and the records had her younger sister entering the country twice.  My mother had to unravel the records so that my grandmother could become naturalized.

My grandmother would tell the story:

The judge asked me, "Who was Abraham Lincoln?"  

And I said, "He was President of the United States."  

The judge said, "And what did he do for the people?"  

I said, "He freed the slaves."

And then she was sworn is as a citizen of this country.

And she never missed an opportunity to exercise her right to vote.  Even when she was old and nearly blind and unable to go to the polling place, she'd make sure she got an absentee ballot, and she'd tell my  aunt "Make sure you put my mark next to the Democrat's name."

Yes, I think my politics are part of my inheritance.

Thanks, Grandma.

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