Friday, June 3, 2011

I don’t know what Women’s Lib even looks like.

When I was a kid, I thought the Bunkers were my grandparents. Literally. During my early childhood, on my parents’ TV each week, they appeared to be identical to my grandma and grandpa; so much so, I remember it being confusing. On visits to their house, my grandpa could be found ruling from his throne in the living room, while Grandma was always in the kitchen, making him dinner. He’d interrupt her meal preparations periodically to have her come change the channel for him, and she’d drop whatever she was doing and come flip the dial. I loved my grandparents, but I knew from a young age that I was not going to have that kind of marriage. Grandma never even got a driver’s license; she was dependent on Grandpa to take her wherever she needed to go. When I pictured my someday life, a doting, enslaved wife was the last thing I wanted to be.

 I was blessed that as I grew up, I had the chance to know Grandma better. I eventually realized that my first impression of her could not have been more wrong. The woman I first thought of disparagingly as her family’s housekeeper and cook became one of my greatest role models. My same grandma, who refused to get a driver’s license, had once hotwired a Model T with a hairpin and took her aunt on an afternoon road trip, just to spite her cranky uncle. Grandma, who served and doted on grandpa, had once assisted in his appendectomy. She likes to say she “already knew him inside out” before they dated.

Part of why Grandma had seemed so old-fashioned to me was because she was far older than my other grandparents. She was nearly an old maid, by the time she married Grandpa – thirty. She once explained to me her reason for marrying so late, “it was not for lack of opportunity,” she clarified. There was a war going on, and she wasn’t going to marry someone, just to have him go off and die in battle. Despite the pressure to conform, Grandma stood her ground. Sure enough, she married Grandpa after a short three months of courtship – once the war was over.

I also realized that if Grandma hadn’t wanted to change the channel, the TV would not have survived a day in the house. Tenacity is one of Grandma’s essential characteristics. Having waited so long to get married, becoming a mother wasn’t easily either. Her first child was a micro-preemie, born in an age when micro-preemies were miscarriages. Grandpa once described how my aunt could fit in the palm of his hand when she was born. Grandma never got big enough to wear maternity clothes. But her nurse-friends at the hospital all chipped in to get Grandma an incubator and they sent the baby home for Grandma to watch over. She pumped her milk and coddled that little baby – I believe she willed her daughter to survive. And if Grandma makes up her mind, only God can come between her and what she wants. My aunt grew up without any developmental impairments.

When the doctor delivered the news that Grandma’s second child had been born with a cleft palate, she matter-of-factly retorted that she was just going to have to love him double. Her nurse-friends came through again, with softer nipples from bottles that had already been broken in by other babies. She filled her baby’s cleft with those soft nipples, so he could suck and get the nourishment. He was another baby willed by my grandma to survival.

She kept her promise, too.  She's spent the rest of her life, loving my dad double.  And most people never guess the serious birth defect he overcame.

My grandparents, off on an adventure
 together in their younger days.
Grandma didn't become the first female astronaut or build a personal empire, but she made a way for herself, by herself when necessary.  She's been on her own again, since Grandpa died over 20 years ago.  Serving her family was a calling for her; one she pursued with all the energy and conviction she had.  She knew who she was and what she wanted and nothing would stand in her way.  I've learned from her what a gift it is to have a loving, committed marriage, and to bear and raise healthy kids - and that, as long as you have a choice, choosing to serve others is noble, not demeaning.

Grandma's 95th birthday is next month, but it looks like she'll celebrate that one with Grandpa and Jesus.  That is, of course, unless she makes up her mind not to go.

After Jesus sat down and told the twelve disciples to gather around him, he said, "If you want the place of honor, you must become a slave and serve others!" Mark 9:35

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