we are 60 (as A.A. Milne of Christopher Robin fame might have said), we are of
an age to think about grandmothers. Perhaps you are a grandmother or hoping to
be one. Perhaps your friends are grandmothers. It is a whole new world to
does this make you think more about your own
When I was writing my book about what it is like being a grandmother, many women I interviewed – including some friends – talked about how important one or other of their grandmothers had been to them.
had spent a lot of time with their grandmother, learned many things from her,
and some said they missed her constantly.
as it might sound, this was a bit of a new idea to me. Yes, I knew both my
grandmothers until my late teens, but they were not an important part of my
life nor a big influence.
did not teach me much, did not pay me special attention, or take a real
interest in what I was up to. They were just relatives who turned up from time
to time, to whom I was required to be nice.
My Father’s Mother
– my father’s mother – lived on the other side of the United States, and we saw
her very infrequently. It’s hard to remember what a big deal it was to take an
airplane in those days. And when someone spent the money and time to fly
somewhere, they tended to stay for a while.
I never heard it said out loud, it was clear that this grandmother always
over-stayed her welcome.
would totally disrupt the household, as she was not reluctant to criticise my
mother’s ways of keeping house and child-upbringing nor to verbalise many other
issues on which she had an opinion. Her visits were therefore periods of great
family tension, not conducive to a close relationship.
she was, to her credit, interesting. She was what people might call ‘a bit of a
character’. She felt she should have married ‘better’ than she did and would
readily remind us of this fact.
most memorable example was orthodontry, which I and my siblings benefitted
from. “If they had that in my day…”, she once said, “none of you grandchildren would
have been born!”
also highly politically involved. In the autumn of 1960, during the period just
before the Presidential election, when visiting my uncle’s family in a
different state, she had a heart attack and thought she was about to die (she didn’t).
later said that, while contemplating her death, she was very pleased that she
had already voted by absentee ballot. That put a whole new spin on the term.
My Mother’s Mother
other grandmother – my mother’s mother – was very different. We saw her more
frequently, as she lived much closer. She was dutifully invited for
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other occasions and she – equally dutifully – took
photographs of the family to be helpful.
grandmother had few interests that I could see, aside from regular bridge games
with friends and the usual concerns of a well-brought up suburban widow, such
as charity and her church.
know she was worried I would marry someone ‘unsuitable’, which covered almost
all categories you might think of. I married only after she died, but I suspect
she would not have approved.
was a classic case of a grown-up daughter – my mother – becoming much more
radical than the family from which she came, creating a cultural and political
divide that was difficult to span.
was evident that my parents had little time for this woman, so her visits were
also a trial because everyone was trying so hard to get along.
women I interviewed for my book also talked about their grandmothers, who came
across as much more important to them. They came from very diverse backgrounds.
were rich and proud, some very poor; some were very warm and cuddly and others
distant and cold. Many associated their grandmothers with food of one kind or
another, whether the activities of preparation or the joys of eating.
felt that their grandmother had been a considerable influence on their lives
and their attitudes to being a grandmother, whether positive or, in the
occasional case, negative.
made me realise how many different family stories there are.
A Relationship to Cherish
must be wonderful to have a grandmother as a major influence in your life. Now
that I am one, I realise that it is such a special relationship.
can be very close but without the inevitable tensions that arise within the immediate
nuclear family. You gain new perspectives and ways of doing things than you
gain from your parents.
you also gain a small foothold in history, if she talks about her own
background and life as a child.
have written a lot about the importance of this relationship to the
grandmother, but yes, in the right family, it is also important to the
What will your grandchildren
remember about you in 50- or 60-years’ time? What do you remember about your
grandmother? Was she an important influence on your life? Has it affected your
relationships with your own grandchildren? Let’s have a conversation!