Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday, Grandma Fern - and quite an insight

My grandmother, Fern Johnson's high school graduation picture. 1928.

Grandma Fern today, on her 100th birthday, with her great-grandaughter, Molly (my neice.)

...with her best friend of 70 years. They used to go dancing together. Today, Maxine still does ballroom dancing once a week.

Grandma Fern's 8th grade graduation dress - hand made by her Aunt Olive of silk.

A dancing dress - circa 1940's. I'm going to squeeze into this thing for New Year's if I have to starve myself to do it! (Kidding!)

This morning we headed south for Des Moines, Iowa to celebrate my grandmother's 100th birthday. She's the true free spirit, single since she was 21 in 1931, when my mother's father essentially deserted them both (or some version of desertion, it seems.) She is happy - just a happy, happy person asking little from others and believing that as you sow, you reap - especially when it comes to your thoughts. Today I saw a book in her 350 square foot apartment called "Think Well, Live Well."

Well, something has worked for her.

Today, as I knelt beside the chair she sat in, her body shriveled to something like 90 pounds, but still spry as long as she has her walker, I showed her my iphone with a photo on it that I had just taken of her.

"I'm going to send this picture to Isabelle right now - she's in Wisconsin. Did you ever imagine anything like this a hundred years ago?"

"Oh, I couldn't have imagined all the new things I've seen," she said.

"What do you think has been the most important?" I asked her.

"Electricity," she said without skipping a beat.
Then, she leaned in toward me and said, "But, privately, I think it was Kotex. I remember what it was like before Kotex. It was a big step forward."

You could have knocked me over. What an incredible insight! Ladies, have you ever found yourself without your preferred essential personal care product when you need it? Can you imagine what it would be like to live without it? It may not quite be as limiting as bound feet, but it certainly would have restricted women's freedom.

I recall hearing once that the reason that, in the past, women could not be priests was because of the bleeding. We could not be in the the chancel, the sacred part of the church which represented heaven - where the priest stands to break the bread and pour the wine - because it would have been unclean and disrespectful. I have no idea if this is true, but I can imagine it to be after my eye-popping conversation with my grandmother.

It was a tender event. My father didn't join us because he is quite ill; my sister, Holly stayed home with him to care for him. It must be topsy-turvy for my grandmother, at 100, to know that the son-in-law she has known and, I think, loved for 60 years may pass from this life before she does.

As with most of our family events, we laughed. We ate. We drank. Lee gave a scintillating lecture to our travel mates (Tom, Kelly and my mom)on the ride down about Freud, Jung, and dreams. We discussed God and our personal relationship to and with religion. The whole day was a keeper of a memory.

And start to think about 1910, the era before women had the right to vote, were considered property for all practical purposes...and didn't have Kotex. We've come a long way, baby.

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