As I watched, with a heavy heart, the acute and often venomous polarization leading into, through, and following the recent presidential election here in the U.S., I found myself thinking of my two grandmothers.
My maternal grandmother, Anabel, was what we might justifiably call a Rabid Republican. She was born before 1900 — a Scorpio Sun — and died before I started university.
She was a gifted seamstress and needle-worker who could whip up a cable-knit sweater, or any article of clothing, or a quilt or an afghan or fine needlework lace, with ease and true mastery. She could repair a favorite blanket or sweater or, heck, even a sock, with equal skill.
She made boxes full of miniature, custom-designed clothing for our dolls, who were, as a result, very well and impressively attired.
She had a real Trickster wit, and a sense for sudden and unexpected outbreaks into “coloring outside of the lines” — like when she and her sisters, definitely ‘elders’ by that point, got a game of kickball going during a backyard family picnic.
A lapsed Methodist and a non-church-goer, she and my grandfather had been married for 60 years when she died.
She thought “Witch hunt Joe” McCarthy was something of a hero, and loathed, passionately, everything the Kennedys and any other Democrat stood for.
My paternal grandmother, Helen, was a staunch Democrat. She was born in the first decade of the 1900s — a Taurus Sun and a “millennial” of her time — and died at the beginning of August 2000, aged into her 90s.
She’d been a single mother, deserted by a fickle husband to raise two young boys, with extended-family help.
She was an elementary school teacher and was a prodigious baker who showered everyone with cookies and pies and other baked (and jellied and pickled) delights, and organized (and stocked) the Church bake sales, dinners, and rummage sales.
She could seem more earnest, but would hold forth with a contagious deep-honeyed chuckle or an amused twinkle of the eye.
A devoted Dutch Reformed church pillar, she used words like “luxe” to describe things, and said, “Oh, heavens!” regularly.
She was deeply offended by what “Witch Hunt Joe” McCarthy stood for, and passionately supported the Kennedys and other Democrats that came after.
All things being equal, I have no doubt that my maternal grandmother Anabel would have voted for Donald Trump, and my paternal grandmother Helen would have voted enthusiastically for Hillary Clinton.
Truth be told, I don’t think they liked each other very much.
But I loved them both, very dearly. And they did have common ground.
To me they weren’t Red or Blue, rabid Republican or staunch Democrat, though they were that.
They were both, absolutely, wonderful and loving and doting grandmothers.
At the very least, they shared in common a love for their grand daughters, which suggests that they likely had other things in common, too, perhaps obscured by the very different world views that expressed as the political leanings that divided them.
For example …
Neither was much of a cook when it came to the savory foods, though one made an excellent gravy from pan drippings and the other roasted a perfectly golden and juicy turkey.
Needless to say, for us kids, the two went together nicely.
Both had grandparents and/or great grandparents who had been uprooted and displaced — and not nicely — by religious persecution and genocide from their lives and their homelands of origin … the lands in which generations of their own ancestors had lived.
Both had lived through the Great Depression, the world wars and the ones that followed, and challenging times before, during, and after these.
Both had two children: Anabel, a son and a daughter born nearly 20 years apart; Helen, two sons born a year apart.
Both had a son or daughter who had married each other, knitting the families and their matriarchs together.
Both shared a skill and capacity for creativity — one expressed through sewing and needle work, the other expressed through baking and canning.
Both kept books for us in their homes, and we spent hours reading during our frequent visits with them.
Both were tea drinkers, and we sat and sipped tea with both.
Both let us dig through closets and drawers looking for treasures.
Both enjoyed the ritual of watching The Lawrence Welk Show.
Both were born before women won the right to vote, and cast their votes from then on.
Both were very well into “middle age” when I arrived on the scene.
Neither wore pants. Ever.
Both shared an unquestionable love for their grand daughters, and a deep commitment to our wellbeing.
Neither of them ever spoke an ill word against each other in my presence.
Neither vied for the love of their grand daughters at the expense of the other.
Nor, when my own parents divorced and our home environment became a long and protracted battle zone, did either of my grandmothers say an ill word about the other parent, even if they might have thought it.
In these ways, they provided loving and much-needed sanctuary, both of them.
Both were very much beloved and both are very lovingly remembered by their grand daughters.
Politics and the underlying world views divided them.
But the fact remains that, beneath the very different world views and political party affiliations, they shared some very true and foundational things in common.
May we …
May in the coming days and weeks and months, we challenge ourselves to look more deeply beneath the surface discord, difference, and venom — within, and around us — to the truly important things we share in common.
May we take a stand as and for that.
May we summon the better angels of our nature and look for and affirm some good in ‘the other’ — even when that seems a very tall and maybe inconvenient or even impossible task — and refrain from routinely and mindlessly ‘speaking ill against’ and adding to the atmosphere of malice, hatred and intolerance.
May we be that change.
In this way, may we begin to build the bridge across the chasm of divide, and connect in and through our common humanity.
May we hold our elected leaders of any and all parties accountable to that humanity and humaneness.
May we — in whatever way we do it — pray it, bless it, vision it, affirm it, will it, and/or be it into being.
May we do this for all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will either bless us or blame us based upon this choice we make now.
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