In memoriam: What my Midwestern housewife grandmother taught me about social justice

Today my family will bury my grandma, subject of my most popular blog post: What Planned Parenthood means to my 92 year old grandmother.

In eulogizing her last night, I talked about what I learned from her.


Fairness for workers: Wife of a UAW member-Alcoa metalworker, Grandma was an ardent supporters of unions. She didn't believe that corporate executives or their political cronies would protect "the working man," which for her included women, so workers had to stick together.

Racial and ethnic equality: She didn't like how black kids were treated when they started coming to the neighborhood pool years ago, and she didn't understand fighting between groups of European immigrants. Her husband and mother were rude to my father when he was dating my mom because he was "guinea" (Italian), but Grandma was always kind to him. Years later when challenged my grandfather on his prejudice toward my dad, she took my side.

Gay equality: I remember how angry she was about the 1992 Colorado vote to prohibit civil rights protections for LGBT people. She said, "These people aren't bothering anyone. Just leave them alone!" Later, when she learned that my cousin is gay, she admitted she didn't fully understand these sorts of things since her generation never talked about them, but she had no problem with it. End of discussion.

Voting: She was born in 1918, a year and a half before women could vote in the United States. From the age of 21 on, she proudly never missed a single election. She had no patience for people who didn't vote, and she resisted switching to an absentee ballot in her later years because she was so glad to go vote in person. One of her favorite movies was Iron Jawed Angels.

Women's rights: Excited by the many advances women made in her lifetime, she burst with pride when I became the first in the family to graduate from college, and she loved seeing her granddaughters get educations, develop careers and be independent. When I called to say I was moving to Europe, she said "Oh thank God! I thought you were going to say you were getting married." Not one to express affection, she was so moved by me calling her from a reproductive rights march on the National Mall so she could hear the crowd that for the first time she told me she loved me.

Schools: While seniors have a reputation of voting against school tax levies, she always voted for them, even though her kids went to Catholic school. Always. She said it was everyone's responsibility.

Generosity: Grandma gave to charities that mattered to her, but a few people in my family, myself included, were given checks to pass along to someone we'd mentioned was having a rough time. In my case it was a check for a homeless mother I knew who'd just lost a newborn to SIDS. She never drew attention to her giving. She just did it.

Fun: Growing up, Grandma was an avid tennis player, swimmer and runner. She ran so fast in her blue uniform that her friends called her "Flaming Blue," a name she gave her fantasy football team in her 80s. She loved watching baseball, but little pleased her more than a Sunday with three football games to watch from lunchtime til bedtime. And if you called her mid-game, she'd refuse to talk until halftime.

She was quite straightlaced in many ways, but she had a mischievous side. She liked when I'd call her with jokes, but she liked the bawdy ones most of all. When my cousin and I called her from an Indians baseball game she was watching on TV, she said to flash the cameras so we'd get on TV. And in this last year, she flirted with her "boyfriends," men who worked at her nursing home. When she was like this, she got a wonderful twinkle in her eye.

What does football and being flirty have to do with social justice? Plenty. Grandma had time for the serious things in life, but she also loved the play and humor that makes life fun.

And that's what I'll remember about her most of all. A popular quote attributed to a headstone in Ireland goes “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

While I'm terribly sad that she's gone, I'll always cherish that joyful, mischievous twinkle.

  1. gravatar

    # by George - September 23, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    What a great post! I'm sorry for the loss of your grandma, but she has left a lot of good values behind that will live forever.

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    # by Tracy - September 28, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    Thanks, George! She sure did. She was one cool lady.