Portrait of my Grandmother

As a young woman my grandmother, Jeanne, received a partial scholarship to college, but her parents said there was no way they would cover the rest–she was a girl.  The money needed to go to her brothers. So she did what so many women did in that era, she got married to a man in uniform, a Navy pilot.  (My grandfather admitted to me recently that he never considered her beautiful, but she was.)  They moved every two years all over the country, and during the first 15 years, she was either pregnant or nursing or both.  She was pregnant 8 times, 6 survived.

She wanted to be a writer.  Late in life, she finally sent in a story and received a rejection letter by the editors who thought her prose was so juvenile they assumed she was a child.  People, her own children, thought this was hilarious.  Me, as a writer, find this HORRIFYING.

After nearly 40 years of raising children, the youngest went off to college, and my grandparents moved for a stint in Maryland alone. It was a good time for them.  My grandfather sailed his boat in the Atlantic.  My grandmother started taking feminist literature classes.  She was 60 and it woke something up in her.  She started adding her maiden name to her signature, going from Jeanne Oliver to Jeanne Daily Oliver.  To my mother, her eldest child, who she had treated badly and discounted in comparison to my mother’s brothers, this late feminist awareness understandably drove my mother crazy.  “She STILL doesn’t get it!”  She would cry, and for good reason, but I think my grandmother’s awakening wasn’t such a UNIVERSAL awakening, but more an INDIVIDUAL one.

Jeanne bought this copy of Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh from a library sale, and it sat on the bookshelf in the kitchen nook of their home in Coronado, along with other books from that time in Maryland.  When she died my grandfather asked if I wanted any of them and I took this one.  I finally read it a few years ago and I can see why my gradmother might have liked it.  Like Lindbergh, my grandmother had many children and also had a husband who loved to fly.  Also like Lindbergh, she had spent her life serving the noise of her family and her husband, but at 60 searched the empty and quiet shore for an answer to what was next.  As it happens, she found what Lindbergh found: the shell of herself still in tact.  Jeanne might not have extended her awakening to women in general, but for a few short years, she found herself.