My maternal grandmother would be 110 years old today.
She gets the short end of the stick in many ways, because my Spanish grandmother is more obviously interesting. But the truth is, when I was growing up, it was “Nannie” who was the biggest influence on me, more so in many ways than my own parents.
She lived with us until I was two years old, and always lived in Antioch after I was born, so I spent many a night at her house. She could talk your ear off, but oftentimes, the topics were different from what I heard in other places. She loved Franklin Roosevelt, and had a box set of his “fireside chats” and speeches. We would sit and listen to the President talk about how the Republicans were being mean to his dog Fala, and my grandmother would tell me once again about the doggie and the president and those bad Republicans.
She also took an interest in the civil rights struggles of the day. I remember she had a couple of books by Dick Gregory that we read, over and over. Later in the sixties, she expressed dismay at the more radical elements … I’d give her a break on that, by then she was a white woman from the South, in her mid-60s. When my sister started digging into the family genealogy, we found that there were slave owners from the Harrison side of the family. I don’t know if my grandmother knew any of them, but surely she knew the family history, although I don’t remember her ever talking about it. Still, I wonder if that history had something to do with her own less-racist perspective, an attempt to distance herself.
Pictures of her when my mom was a kid suggest a fairly severe woman, yet there are rumors that after my grandfather died, she was thisclose to hooking up with Larry Blake, the famed Berkeley restaurateur. She must have had a more lively time in her 40s than I realized.
She always spoke to me like an adult, she exposed me to liberal ideas, and I don’t think I gave her enough respect when she was around. Of course, there was also the part where when we were bad, she’d make us pick a branch off of the rosebush in front of the house, which she called a “switch” that she would spank us with. I can’t say I have a lot of fond memories about that.
Here she is when my mom and her sister were teenagers (that’s a guess). This would have been early 1940s, so she would have been in her late-30s or so.