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.
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.
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.