Category Archives: Women and midlife

I’m Turning Into My Grandmothers

My mom with Dora (left) and Alice (right)

I love those Progressive Auto Insurance commercials where they joke about how we’re all going to turn into our parents. Precocious as I am, I’m starting to think I’ve skipped a generation. I’m turning into my grandmothers.

I had two grandmothers who were totally different from each other. Dora, my maternal grandmother, was a bit like the Queen of England: she drank tea out of a fancy pot, was perfectly attired for any occasion and died at 100 without a wrinkle on her face. I was the only kid in second grade who’d ever heard of Dorian Gray. She was a person stuck in a beautiful moment of time; she was not forward looking.

I think of Dora as I find myself silently cheering against Bitcoin. This is not just because I don’t have any Bitcoin or out of concern that it’s being used for nefarious purposes. It’s because I have no idea what it is. I find myself asking questions like: Is the word Bitcoin singular or plural? Have you ever held a / some Bitcoin in your hand? Where are the Bitcoin mines located? Do you think there might be one on my property? To be honest, I feel the same way about Snapchat. Technologically speaking, I am not forward looking.

If Dora were a cartoon character, her catch phrase would have been, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” I heard her deliver this line a hundred times in my life, and it was usually preceded by a little click of the mouth, not quite a tisk. Peanut allergies. VCRs. Bachelorette parties. Weight gain during pregnancy. She had never heard of such things. Her conviction left those of us around her wondering if such things existed at all. I am 100% sure she would have been a Bitcoin denier.

Like Dora, I get irrationally excited by handwritten thank you notes. I treasure them, read them multiple times and leave them out on my kitchen counter for my children to see. “Look,” I say. “I got this lovely note from a girl in your class.” A thank you note, unlike Bitcoin, is concrete. It’s a thing I can understand.

My paternal grandmother, Alice, was practicality personified. Her Midwestern sensibilities appealed to me on the deepest level. She liked to do things that were free like read books or watch a “show” that I made up and performed. She was a schoolteacher and also appreciated a good thank you note, but would return them to me marked up in red pen. As a child I found this unspeakably annoying, but as an adult who is becoming increasingly preoccupied by grammar, I am grateful that she took the time.

While I’ve always run on the early side, I have recently started showing up places a solid 15 minutes before expected. In this way, I am morphing into Alice. Unsuspecting dinner hosts peer out their windows in bathrobes and see me parked in their driveways. I’m doing this often enough that I keep a book in my car so I can pass the time while I wait.

I can still picture Alice seated in the living room, with her purse on her lap, at least an hour before we had to leave to go anywhere. She wore earbobs, not earrings. She’d beat you in cards with a deuce, not a two. She made cookies with something called potato buds. If she sounds like someone from two centuries ago, that’s because she was. Alice was born in 1899, a hundred years before my first son. She’d been a schoolteacher and nearly bankrupted the state of Minnesota by collecting a pension until her death at 98. There’s some talk that she was the first woman to climb Mount Rainier. She was sensible to her core, and I adored her.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the next forty years pan out. I can’t imagine I’ll start favoring pantyhose or carrying a purse, but then again I never thought I’d start complaining about how no one ever returns the books I loan them. I picked that one up from both Dora and Alice, and am considering buying myself “Property of” bookplates just like they had. I think my grandmothers would be delighted.


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How I Became A British Aristocrat

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The Ins and Outs of the Thank You

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Growing Up in a Marriage

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Now Extinct: The Cringe-Worthy Prom Photo

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Cracking the Dress Code

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Double Identity (or How I Became Irish)

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