Lately, I’ve been thinking about my grandmother on my dad’s side. Sadly, I did not know her or any of my grandparents well because there was a large age gap between us. Plus, they lived on the other side of the country.
What I do know about my paternal grandmother intrigues me. When her husband left or drowned—nobody knows what really happened to him—while canoeing to the post office to pick up mail in New Hampshire, she became a single parent. To earn money, she modeled shoes in Boston. Later, during World War II, she served as a volunteer submarine spotter watching for German submarines off the East Coast. I wish I knew more about her life and had asked better questions while she was alive.
Unfortunately, I think that grandmothers tend to be overlooked. While these women are vital to society, they are not always given proper credit. Perhaps that’s changing.
The Barefoot College recruits women, usually grandmothers, from remote villages in many parts of the world and teaches them the fundamentals of solar engineering and freshwater technology. When these women return home they provide their communities with clean water and electricity.
Why grandmothers? Educator and founder of the Barefoot College, Bunker Roy, said in a Reader’s Digest article that he prefers to train grandmothers because the “…men were untrainable.” He believes that men are ambitious, restless and on the move. However, grandmothers are compassionate, patient, and willing to learn. Also, in rural areas only very young and very old people tend to stay there. Those who are able to work, move to urban areas to find a job.
But there can be a backlash against women who chose this path. In some traditional societies a husband might tell his wife not to return to him if she goes for training. He may threaten to take another wife if she leaves.
However, Barefoot College discovered that when the woman—usually the grandmother—returns to help the village, her husband may beg her to return to him. With a newfound sense of self-respect, she might turn him down.
In Russia grandmothers who are sometimes referred to as “museum babushkas,” guard paintings and sculptures. You can find them in museums such as the Hermitage and Pushkin wearing comfortable street clothes sitting next to paintings by Matisse and Vermeer.
I think this is a fantastic idea. Who would dare to misbehave in front of a guard who looks like your grandmother?
Then there are individual role models. When she was 64 years old, Grandmother Diana Nyad accomplished her goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida without using a shark cage. Nyad had tried four times in 35 years but had to quit each time for various reasons such as being stung by venomous jellyfish. She never gave up and her fifth try was successful.
Of course, Grandma Moses became a well-known artist in the United States at the age of 76. The self-taught artist took up painting after her hands became so crippled by arthritis that she couldn’t embroider any longer. Painting more than 1,000 pictures, her subject matter was based on her memories of farm life. Grandma Moses lived to be 101 years old and painted every day until her last birthday. She said, “And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be."
Are you a grandparent?Have you had a fabulous grandmother in your life?