Today was my grandma’s birthday, on my mom’s side. A lot of people are important in my life, but without question, the two people who had the most influence on me growing up, who most formed me as a person, and who I am most like, are my grandmas. The ashes of my dad’s mom reside on my bookcase, along with a pack of her favorite cigarettes, and a seashell that she found on her lone trip to Florida, one of the few times she had a chance to travel out of state (it could actually be the only time, as far as I know).
My dad’s mom is responsible for my raunchy sense of humor, my ridiculous, outrageous laughter, and my generally mischeivious demeanor. My mom’s mom is responsible for my political consciousness, my sense of justice and fairness, my longing for peace between all people, and my overriding desire to see the world become a better place.
Today, on her birthday, I want to share a few words I wrote to celebrate her life when she passed away in 2007. God bless you, Ceil.
I’d just like to say a few words about the tremendous debt that I owe Ceil. Until I came back a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t really realized how much she had taught me, how much of my personality and my interests were due to her influence. Everyone here knows what a sweet, giving person my grandma was, how she gave her time to help individuals, but not everyone may be fully aware of how dedicated she was to politics in years past, how tirelessly committed she was to doing what she could to make the world a better place.
When I was a little kid, Ceil was constantly going to meetings and taking trips for one of the numerous political organizations she belonged to. For my entire life, words like “union” and “League of Women Voters” have reminded me not of politics, but of my childhood and my grandma. One of my first memories is of her taking me up on a podium and introducing me to Walter Mondale, so he could shake my little 5 year old hand. By the time I was in elementary school I could tell you why I thought Democrats were good, Republicans were evil, and why unions were vitally important to workers. I remember how once in fourth grade I shouted an angry, semi-revolutionary statement against Ronald Reagan at my teacher in front of the whole class when I thought she was talking him up. I have since learned a lot and changed my mind about some of my elementary school political positions, but there is no doubt whatsoever that I have my grandma to thank for teaching me at an early age to think about the world around me, about the people in it, about what’s right and what’s wrong, and for teaching me by unintentional example to always do the right thing, to speak up when I see injustice, to get involved in and be engaged with my society, and most of all, no matter what happens, just to never give up and to never stop trying to do better and to contribute what I can to my society.
Though she was quiet and unassuming, my grandmother was an extraordinary person. As did many people of her generation, Ceil had a hard life, and went through hard times that I can’t even imagine, both because of the times she lived in and because of the curveballs life threw her way. But through it all she never stopped smiling. Ceil, despite all she went through, never developed that hard, bitter shell that most of us get when people and life do us wrong. Through it all she still trusted people, saw the good in everyone, and took her greatest pleasure from seeing that other people were happy. She really did care for everyone and would never say a bad word about anyone. My grandma, despite growing up poor and not having the advantage of a college education, became a political leader in her community, read fine literature (some of it to me when I was little), and sincerely enjoyed her life and the people in it up to the very end. I’m in debt to her for my political consciousness, a large part of my intellectual development, for the example she gave me of how to care about and forgive other people, and most of all, for the unflagging support and love she gave me my entire life. If I could see her again I’d just want to say thank you, I love you, and I miss you terribly.