Home > conversations, Family, School, Women > “A long line of girls.”

“A long line of girls.”

My last living grandparent is my grandmom, Eleanor, my father’s mother. Truthfully, she’s not in good shape. My grandmom is in her mid-80s, and in addition to coping with her deteriorating physical health, she also suffers from dementia. She’s forgotten how to do things that you and I take for granted, like operating a phone or a TV remote. Moreover, she doesn’t remember the majority of the people she’s loved throughout her life and have loved her back. While she doesn’t always know who I am, she usually does seem to know that my dad is her son, Paul. But not always. Today, during our visit, she asked my dad, “Now, who is your mother?” Mr. Latimer responded, “You!” She laughed a little at the very idea, “Oh, my.”  Later in the visit, she was surprised when we reminded her that she had 10 nieces and nephews and four grandchildren. In that moment, she had no idea she had so many connections.

Today, both my dad and I noticed how my presence confuses her. She definitely knows that, Lori, her granddaughter, exists. However, the person I am standing in front of her doesn’t match her memory of me. So the connection has to be drawn and redrawn over and over again. For some reason, one thing about my present life that permanently sticks with her is that I’m earning a degree at Penn. Over lunch, she expressed to me how much my pursuit of an advanced degree at an institution like Penn meant to her. Her mother, my great-grandmother was a school teacher, and earned a college degree in Education when such a pursuit was rare for women. My grandmom followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a teacher as well. She even earned her Master’s degree. For my grandmom, I think this was a hugely personal accomplishment. She did not have it easy. My grandfather fought in World War II and returned home incapable of readjusting to civilian life because of all the unimaginable, horrible experiences he had. He left the family, and my grandmom lived in a tiny Southwest Philly row home with her parents while raising my dad and my uncle who were a handful, to put it politely. Despite her personal struggles, my grandmom still worked to build her career and expand her education. I think a remarkable aspect of her character is that in addition to earning degrees during a time when people didn’t think women needed that kind of education, she also traveled. A lot. To other continents even. For a girl from Southwest Philly, where people probably never venture farther than the Jersey Shore in their travels, this is pretty mind-blowing.

As my grandmom talked with me about her and her mother’s education, it was clear to me that she sees education as a source of independence and empowerment for the women. “The boys,” she said to me, “they didn’t want to do much.” She thought for a moment, looking down and looking back up at me and said, “I’m trying to think of how to say what a big thing it is, to get an education like that.” When it was time to leave a little while later, she looked up at me again from her wheelchair and said, “Can I hold your hand, since we’re related?” Then as I hugged her goodbye, she said, “A long line of girls…I’m so proud of you.”

Even if my grandmom can’t always remember my name, I’m glad that she can see the good she’s done reflected back at her through the women in her life. I’m proud to be one of those women.

Categories: conversations, Family, School, Women
  1. Jeannie
    August 20, 2011 at 18:46

    How loving and beautiful…

  2. August 24, 2011 at 21:40

    Wow…just…wow. Now, if this doesn’t motivate one to study harder. What a bittersweet beginning to a new semester, and I’m sure this interaction will be like fuel to you when you are working hard and maybe feeling a bit out of steam!

  3. December 27, 2011 at 16:56

    Many similarities. My only living grandparent is my Father’s mother. She is 86 and wonderful. But in the last year, a lot of time being spent alone the last few years has finally had it’s way with her and her mind, while sometimes way sharper than any of ours has turned on her and created “imaginary friends” that have had us go from one landscape to another with her. She talks more to these other people than to us, but still lives alone and manages daily activities. It’s all very strange how my family handles it. I am her favorite grand child, even though I am by far the most unconventional and dysfunctional. We bond more and more and I am grateful to still have her in my life. But at times, the things she has going on in her head are truly scary.

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing and giving me a place to open up. 🙂

    • December 28, 2011 at 17:19

      It’s really hard to see someone you’ve known all your life change so drastically. I’m glad you still have a relationship with your grandmother and it’s grown into something meaningful.

  1. November 24, 2011 at 20:41
  2. December 27, 2011 at 14:44
  3. February 18, 2013 at 13:46

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