The Complete History of Grandmas

This chapter is the first chapter, right after the introduction, of a book of essays I’m almost finished writing called, “SOME KIDS PEAK IN NURSERY SCHOOL  & Other Wisecracks From a Grandma Boomer.” (btw Boomers are born between 1946-1964) But, please read & comment even if you’re not a boomer. Thanks!

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

Virginia Wolf 

 Nothing important happened until baby boomers were invented in 1946 and that goes for Grandmas too, with the exception of Grandma Moses, a self taught artist who sold her first painting in 1938 when she was almost eighty years old. 

This encouraged her to paint many more canvases and bravely say “no” to knitting another useless foot warmer for her good for nothing daughter-in-law who forced her to sleep out on the porch in her rocking chair. 

It’s inspiring to imagine that by the time we baby boomers are eighty it will be the new fifty and we might launch a second career and smack around our  daughter-in-law. In these unsettling times it’s life affirming to have something to forward to. 

We could learn a thing or two from Grandma Moses because she had nine grandchildren and get this, thirty nine great-grandchildren. Until I googled her and found out her real name was Anna Mary Robinson Moses, and it was the press that dubbed her grandma, I assumed she was called Grandma because in the late 1930’s anyone with gray hair worn in a bun was ‘Grandma.’ 

     Example: Bus Driver: “Come on, Grandma, move it, already!”

 Nevertheless, Grandma Moses rightfully belongs in our Grandma Archives for two reasons. 1. Personal level: She taught us to stand up for ourselves by dragging her rocking chair indoors on chilly nights. 2. Artistic level: She encouraged us to express ourselves by making color from the materials around us.

  Grandma’s earliest brown was without question, her most ingenious concoction. The unlikely source was dirt sprinkled with tap water. Today, this mud like substance is commonly called ‘mud.’ 

 Thank you, Grandma Moses! And, by the way, she lived to be 101. She attributed her long life to responding, “I’m sorry, honey, I miss the little buggers, but I must finish this painting” when one of her nine children called on her to babysit. This also explains why she was so prolific.   

 I began this book with the history of grandmas because as cool as it is to have something to look forward to we also thrive on what went on before us. In other words, it seemed like a good idea at the time, like tattooing my eyebrows in 2003.

Unfortunately, despite my googling I couldn’t find much on historical grandmas. To be honest, I didn’t try that hard. I justified my lazy search with typical baby boomer defiance.

  “You’re not the boss of me!” I screamed at the mirror and  that was that. 

 I did stumble across the founder of Grandparents Day pictured below. This is Mrs. Marian McQuade. Thanks to her, in 1978, the first Sunday after Labor Day was declared National Grandparents Day. Last count it’s celebrated in four, maybe five households across the country… 

              (I am DONE trying to put her picture into this blog! Something must be broken. (me?)  Anyway, imagine a     little old lady who looks her age (88) because she never had her eyes done or even botox.

  I know Mrs. McQuade looks like a typical old lady, but she had 15 children so it’s possible she’s only in her late twenties here. At first glance she looked familiar to me like the stranger you keep running into in the supermarket or the face on an oatmeal box.

 When Mrs. McQuade died in 2008 at the age of 91 she left 40 grandchildren, which when you think about it, and even if you don’t, this works out to be less than three grandchildren a kid. Apparently, they didn’t enjoy growing up living in a shoe as much as one would expect.

 Some may wonder why Grandparents Day never caught on. Here’s a theory along with a prediction of imminent popularity. In some circles this theory is referred to as:

                  “If A Boomer Can’t Benefit From It Why Bother?”

 In 1978, the first Sunday after Labor Day was proclaimed Grandparents Day. Back then, we baby boomers were in our 20’s and 30’s and we certainly weren’t about to waste a perfectly good Sunday afternoon taking an old person to brunch. (unless maybe they promised to babysit that evening) 

 Now, we’re the old person and we want our brunch! It’s only right. Here we are stuck sharing Mother’s Day with our daughter and worse, our daughter-in-law! We want our own day! We want Grandparents Day!

 The only drawback to celebrating Grandparents Day is it includes the Grandfathers. Why can’t they just be happy with their Father’s Day barbecue, a nice pair of colorful socks and “Whale of a Dad” Carvel Cake. 

 More about grandfathers in Chapter 17, “Grandfathers: Are They Really Necessary?” 

                          Grandmas are the ‘salt of the earth.’

 It’s common knowledge that Grandmas have long been regarded as ‘the salt of the earth,’ an 

expression plucked straight from the bible (can’t get more historical than that.) 

  “Salt of the earth’ is a worthy phrase to hold on to as we move into and through Grandma hood. It gives our once useless lives meaning, and even better, status. 

 Before joining the ranks of Grandma Boomers, salt meant something to pass. We’d pour it in a pot to make the water boil faster, or, if we accidentally knocked over a salt shaker we’d hold it in our right hand and shake the salt over our left shoulder to ward off bad luck. 

 All our lives we did the salt dance, first sprinkling it on our food to make it tastier, then half an hour later we’d glance in the mirror and see a horrified woman looking seven months pregnant. 

 “Where did that belly come from?” we’d scream at our reflection. We’d attempt to reassure ourselves, “It’s only water weight” but that excuse didn’t hold water or did it? Whatever. The fact remained we couldn’t button our pants. 

 Now that we are grandmas, salt reminds us of ourselves transformed to a wiser, more dependable self than our former bloated one. “We are the salt, we are the shaker…” Feel free to sing along! (to the tune of “We Are the World.”)

                               Fairy Tales Featuring a Grandma

 Out of all the fairy tales the only story that I can recall with a grandma as a main character is “Little Red Riding Hood.” To refresh your memory, this is a tale of a sweet little girl who because her IQ was only two digits couldn’t tell the difference between her grandma and a wolf. Since the catch phrase “stranger-danger” hadn’t been invented yet, her shortcut through the woods eager to bring a basket of goodies to her beloved grandma proved deadly. 

A contributing factor may have been that she was skipping when she should have been running. On second thought, forget the skipping. Stopping to talk with The Big Bad Wolf was probably her biggest mistake. 

  As the story unravels, the wolf breaks into grandmas house and gobbles her up leaving no apparent sign of a struggle. This ‘no struggle’ detail makes it clear where Little Red Riding Hood got her lazy ‘I think I’ll take a shortcut’ gene from. 

So many questions remain, but the one that’s really eating me (sorry) is… did grandma taste salty? 

                  We Grandma Boomers Make Our Own History

 It seems we are fresh out of historical grandmas. Try not to let this make you, a grandma, feel less important. As we baby boomers travel through each stage of life, we consistently give that new role a new spin. We are the rule makers and rule breakers and now we are re-inventing Grandma hood. There is no disputing, fellow grandma boomers, that we are cooler, funnier and way better dressed than the grandmas who came before us. 

5 Responses

  1. Carol Scibelli says:

    Fun!

  2. Sandra Charlesworth says:

    Okay, I was laughing before I finished the end! Only would add the word in the sentence In these unsettling times….use the word look before forward! I can’t wait to read your whole book. Intriguing; never thought about the historical grandmas; except for Grandma Moses! And, I definitely think we grandmas will do circles around any historical grandmas. The only rocker I’ve ever been in was when my babies were born! LOL! I think we’re still trying to fulfill those dreams in the 60’s to fix the establishment; but now that we are the establishment God help us; because we surely need to be the salt TODAY! Hugs!

  3. Sheri Hershfield Daar says:

    Loved,loved,loved it!
    Grandmother to 3 adorable girls from 7 children (17-38yo), answering to 2 different names, because one child probid me to be call “savta” because my husband/her father had passed. Her kids call me “bubbe” because I said no way was my first name to be added to grandma. By the way, second child was the one that asked me to be called to honor his Israeli father.
    See, there’s a story to every grandma.
    Looking forward to your book.

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  5. Brilliant. Thank you. I love it when a lightbulb moment is shared Berget Hugibert Jenilee

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