This night’s for you, Gram

People always tell me “You’re so adventurous!”  Of course I take this as a compliment but, well, I feel a bit like fraud, what with my fear of flying and generally risk-adverse personality.  An authentically adventurous woman?  I once knew one: her name was Emily and she was my grandmother.

My Gram, Emily Evans Shaffer Harrington, was a badass. While raising four children, Gram received a master’s degree, lead a church choir, wrote poetry and short stories, and supported her family with her school teacher’s salary  (Her first husband, while kind and loving, also was an alcoholic who drank up most of his earnings as a house painter.)

Nearing middle age, Gram went to a conference where she met Bob, a wildlife photographer who (imagine my eyes rolling whenever she told this story) she “accidentally” meet up with after the conference while stopping at a restaurant during her drive home.  At the time Gram and Bob were both married to other people but soon enough married each other.   Gram and her second husband Bob moved to Tanzania in the 1960’s where Gram learned Swahili and among other things, tutored Earnest Hemingway’s grandchildren (total brats, according to Gram.)  Gram and Bob never slowed down, cycling across many countries on a tandem bicycle into their late 70’s.

Far from a cookie baking granny, Gram wore lycra shorts and smelled of chain smoking and sweat—I was crazy about her.   From Gram I inherited a love of reading and traveling (though she preferred camping and hated cities).  My bossy-mouthed feminism?  That came from Gram too.

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Gram lived much of her life in a conservative area of Western Michigan where her positively flamboyant dedication to the Democratic party must of made her a gossip magnet, as if she cared.  In a 1950’s newspaper article about Gram (the fact that this article was written is evidence she was a local curiosity), the writer makes sure to note that Gram went back for a master’s degree “with the approval of her husband”.  The article also mentions an upcoming trip to California for a “Political National Convention.”  The party of said convention was discreetly left unmentioned, but let’s be clear, Gram was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Gram was born four years before women had the right to vote.  She lived in a time when women were not expected or encouraged to have a higher education or to pursue a career outside the family.  Gram fought for minority rights in a frankly racist community and supported women’s rights until her death.  She never had a lot of money but nothing could stop her from doing what she wanted.

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Today the Democratic National Convention nominated the first ever woman presidential candidate.  This afternoon when I sat down to write a post on travel tips, I suddenly thought of my Gram and cried.  She fought for this and I so wish she could have been around to celebrate it.

Thank you Gram, for your adventurous, political, iconoclastic life.  Gram, this night’s for you.

 

31 comments

  1. That is an amazing woman, your Gram.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I think so too. She always loved watching the DNC—she and my Grampa Bob would practically throw their underpants at the tv. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have nothing but respect for the good, solid folks who work hard, pray hard, and glue our society together, but the rebels who try to tear it apart–oh, how they make my heart sing. I like to think somewhere your Gram is watching today and is smiling at how far we’ve come. I know I’m smiling tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks 2000detours—Gram surely did live life to it’s fullest!

      Like

  3. No doubt your Gram is watching what’s happening and smiling. It’s been a long time coming. We needed pioneers like your Gram.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly has been a long time coming—-a toast to you Gram, I do hope you’re smiling!

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  4. Wow you look a lot like her photo, so that is where the travel bug comes from. What a wonderful woman, and a really interesting life she lead, packed full of amazing things and a little bit of sadness, but it all adds to the makeup of a person…….thank you for sharing her life 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you blosslyn. I can often hear Gram’s voice in my head (usually correcting my grammar). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wish she wild pop into mine in that case 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a amazing person ! Thank you for sharing here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much vanadze17! I love it when people give Gram the compliments she deserved. I had a hard time not writing a super duper long post because of all the great stories about her.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wanda Shaffer · · Reply

    I’d love to hear ALL your memories of Emily! Willing to write a journal? The whole family would treasure it. She was an inspiration to many and to me. A true intellectual and individual.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Aunt Wanda. I do have a journal but my handwriting is so bad half the time I can’t read it myself. What is your favorite Emily story? You were fortunate to know her longer than me.

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  7. Thank you for sharing the story of your Gram with us! I always enjoy reading life stories of amazing women that defied the society they were born in and lived full lives!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you unosdiasen. I am quite lucky to have a lot of amazing women in my life (my mom is quite a talented lady too!!)

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  8. Wow, what an amazing, inspirational person to have had in your life. Thank you for sharing her with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy to hear from people who can appreciate what an inspiring person Gram was. I loved her so much and I feel like she should be celebrated for her moxie attitude and fierce intellect.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your gram was amazing, golly I am inspired to try to be more like her and follow my heart and my dreams. I think you now may have a job in front of you to write more of her story in some forum or another.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks you—I think writing her story would be a intimidating business. She was a complicated lady (like most interesting people). Gram was one of those people who seemed quiet in her later years, always with her face stuck in a book, and then she’d bust out with the most outrageous statements. I loved it!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The past is another country, and when you come back from a different place, you see your own country differently. So, another wonderful travel post from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a wonderful way to think about the past, I. J. Khanewala—as another country. I have no special faculty or knowledge of history, but I do try to connect with it through art history, travel and talking to people.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was just channelling L.P.Hartley: The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. But, yes, I think it is true.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. oh wow. I loved this. your gram sounds like the coolest lady. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish you could have met her, TSLOP. I think Gram would have liked you since she had discerning taste. The first time HOB met her I was so nervous. We arrived at her house and she sort of ignored us for a while and then came over to where HOB was sitting at her kitchen table and dropped a book in front of him without comment and went away again. The book was one of her prized possessions—a book of dirty poems from the 1920’s (think salty limericks starting with lines like “There once was a dame from Kentucky”. That’s when I knew Gram approved of him and I was so relieved!

      Like

  12. What a fantastic legacy and I am certain she would be thrilled and proud that you carry it for her! Thanks for sharing! Esther

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading Joe/Esther. In the early 1990’s I was working at a theater at my university where I had a habit of watching everything–every performance, everything in general. One night a conservative newspaper columnist named Cal Thomas came and gave a talk. I had never heard of him, but I was a philosophy major and we all loved logical arguments, so after Mr. Thomas finished his speech I stood up during the question and answer period and pointed out all the logical flaws and contradictions in his speech. The next week Mr. Thomas published a nationally syndicated column about me and how I basically represented that generation of youth gone horribly wrong. As it turns out, Gram had a special loathing for Cal Thomas. I’m not sure if she would be proud of me know, but she certainly was on that specific occasions and she would always bring it up, “Remember that time you stood up to Cal Thomas?”

      Liked by 1 person

  13. For some reason your photos don’t show up for me. Anyway great memory profile of your grandmother!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jean! Did you have a special relationship with your grandmother too?

      I accidentally deleted most of my blog photos when trying to clear up more space in media storage—I am really upset!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, we (meaning 5 siblings also), never knew any grandparents at all. Each of my parents immigrated to Canada in 1950’s when ship or air travel was very expensive. They said goodbye to their parents forever. They never returned to China. My paternal grandparents died a few years after my father immigrated. I guess my maternal grandparents died in 1960’s..

        I come from the classic very poor immigrant family where my parents wouldn’t have been able to fly over nor support any grandparent here because they had a large young family.

        How terrible by accidentally deleting blog photos! Have you tried contacting wordpress.com?

        Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s sad that you missed knowing your grandparents! Have you ever been to China to find any remaining relatives?

    I did contact wordpress.com: they were very nice but they couldn’t restore my photos unfortunately.

    Like

  15. No I haven’t been CHina yet. Actually a number of them have immigrated to North America over the past few decades. I will have a blog post related to this..but probably not until a few months. (Other stuff to publish..)

    Too bad I didn’t go in the early 1990’s. Now the city air in Beijing, Shanghai is polluted, etc. And people in love with their cars, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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