My grandmother died 20 years ago this past weekend. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. I remember packing my car to drive from the North Shore of Long Island to Upstate South Carolina for the funeral like it was yesterday. It was packed with books, as I was to take my comps the next week. So much has happened since then – in the blink of an eye.
Before she died, she spent about 10 years (or more) struggling with Alzheimer’s. Back then, we didn’t really know what Alzheimer’s was, and just thought she was a little kooky. As grand-kids, I don’t think we were especially kind, though by the mid-90s, and my mid-20s, we knew she wasn’t odd, but that something was really wrong. I found my compassion then, but it was too late to get to know her.
My relationship with my grandmother was complicated. My grandmother didn’t like that I was in politics… she wanted me to find a husband, have children, settle down. I did that eventually, and even became the teacher she thought I should be. Along the way, she taught me to garden, preserve food, and to sew.
I’m going through all the family files and photos, and I’m seeing a different woman than the grandmother I knew. She laughed a lot. That’s what striking
My grandmother was a remarkable in ways that I can finally respect. She married young, into what became career military. At that time, it meant raising her daughter while her husband was at war (three wars!!). Later, she returned to her homestead in South Carolina with a new husband (the man I would know as my grandfather, as her first husband died when I was 2). There she forged a career of sorts for herself at Converse College.
My grandmother was a really great seamstress, helping me to learn the finer points of sewing. She was also into millinery.
One of the things I’ve learned about her in recent days is just how good a seamstress she always was – even if I didn’t appreciate it much as a middle school kid. In this picture, she is wearing an outfit she curated, sewing the dress herself. It’s 1940, she’s not quite 17, and she had just won the dress revue for the State of South Carolina 4-H club. She was headed for a free trip to Chicago to the national 4-H meetings. Her budget: $10.