my great-great and great grandmothers
I loved my grandmothers. They both passed from this earth too soon in my opinion. It was my maternal grandmother I had the closest relationship with. I grew up living 30 minutes away from her, whereas my paternal grandmother lived across the country and I only had three clear memories of visiting with her during my childhood, even still, she made a deep Irish impression on me. I wish that I had asked her more questions; I only really know that all of my paternal great-grandparents came to America from Cork, Ireland.
My maternal side I know a lot more about.
Fate holds cards you can’t always plan for. We all have ideas and beliefs about the
way life might unfold, but we don’t really know. Both of my great-grandmothers on my maternal side arrived to America, alone, in unique ways.
One was living in Finland, had an argument with her mother, something about frustration being the eldest of 16 younger siblings. She wrote a letter to her aunt in America and a few months later, she received a one-way ticket to New York. By then, things had been patched up with mom, but she felt obligated to use the my mother, her sister and grandmother
generous ticket. She took the passage across the North Atlantic Ocean and never returned. I have a huge family in Helsinki I hope to visit one day.
My other great-grandmother was born on the ship; her mother was a stewardess for the routine voyage from England to New York. Her family was from Denmark and one day, she got off the ship in New York and didn’t get back on. She married, had two children, her husband went off to war and then came back from war unable to work. She struggled as a waitress, couldn’t make ends meet and as a result, my grandmother and her brother were placed into an orphanage. my maternal grandmother holding me
As a child, I listened to my grandmother’s stories about the orphanage. They sounded like some "ANNIE" adventure and I was enthralled. However, the reality was trauma of abandonment, fear, pain and shame. She left school and that orphanage as soon as she could get a job. She was a telephone operator for the rest of her life. She married into a dysfunctional and abusive relationship and one day she decided it was her last black eye and left with three young children under the age of six and the clothes on their backs. After reconnecting with her mother, my grandmother, found refuge for herself and her children in her mother’s one bedroom apartment.
When I was young, my mom had told me those were the best six years of her life, the five of them living in a one bedroom apartment. She loved her grandma and shared an array of special memories they had together, counting her tips after a nightshift, going for ice cream and how she loved costume jewelry. I dearly loved my great-grandmother who I never had the chance to meet because pacemakers didn’t last so long back then and she passed before I was born. My grandma would sometimes tell me I reminded her of her mother and I’d stare at the black and white photos of her, trying to find myself.
my paternal grandmother
For as much adversity the women in my lineage emerged from, I am beyond grateful that they were able to love me with an insurmountable depth and breadth that built me into the woman I am, the mother I am, and the grandmother I will soon be. Mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers (even those deceased), for better or worse, shape us.
My lineage of women is quite extraordinary.
My hunch is that yours is too.
Well, women hold a powerfully sacred, nurturing, and vital place on this planet. If the women in your family were not nurturing, my guess is that it has to do with the traumas they endured and how it impacted every aspect of their mind, body and spirit. We can always choose to love our mothers free of their shortcomings, free of their mistakes, and in so doing, loving ourselves free of disappointments.
As we all know, Father Time never stops running and one generation quickly slides into the next. I was recently on a trip with my mom and children. I remember being the child on the trip with grandma. My incredible loving mother has been an exceptional grandmother, loving my children unconditionally and sharing beautiful life experiences with them.
grandma, mom, me and my oldest daughter
I didn’t start contemplating all the ways my grandmothers made an impression on me until I found out eight months ago that I would become a grandma this spring. I learned from my grandmothers, who learned from theirs, how to make fudge, curl my hair, bake chicken, set a table for family and strangers, pray fiercely, sprinkle holy water, live courageously, hug tightly and love deeply.
Since announcing that I will soon be entering this new sisterhood of grandmothers, I have been told more times than I can keep track of that it’s truly the best role! I can’t wait to meet my granddaughter; I imagine that I will search her eyes for all the women who have come before us.
my precious daughter and new granddaughter
Happy Mother’s Day to all the women, mothers and grandmothers in many forms who have sung the songs, read the stories, kissed the boo boos and shaped the lives of generations to come.
Much Love, Amy xo
(written in early March, published in 110 Magazine April/May 2022 issue)