Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Week Nineteen

my last grandparent died this week.
almost 94 years ago, in December of 1917, the mother of my father, Anna Elizabeth Hutchinson, was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and from the very beginning, she had an independent mind and a fierce spirit. growing up essentially as an only child -- her older sister left for college and her older brother died when she was quite young -- she had both the freedom of a small-town childhood and the benefit of a good education and parents that encouraged her to learn all she could. when she went to Antioch College in Ohio, she decided to change her name to Anne, as she "never felt like an Anna; it was just too harsh." Antioch was a good fit for her; even then it was known for its anti-racism, pro-activism, and progressive thought. it was also there that she met Martin John Gieschen, who became her husband of more than 50 years. as those years unspooled, they learned how to run a farm, an independent movie house and grocery store, and finally my grandfather's art career. my aunt and father were born, there was a move to New York, and through it all my inimitable grandmother always stayed busy learning new skills, working outside the home, and later, when they were retired, exploring the great American outdoors with a small trailer and their trusty "Monster," a Chevy Suburban. she also happened to survive polio, two kinds of cancer, an aneurysm, and a massive heart attack. i said she had a fierce spirit, didn't i?
that spirit both inspired me and motivated me; she always encouraged my various shenanigans as a child as long as they showed imagination and creativity. she was a relentless cheerleader; during the time i was struggling to establish a freelance career in television production she would call me and encourage me to stick with my "adventurous life" and not settle for something that would "curb my freedom." she was a fan of my world travels, my choice of a husband, my shared love of cats, and my cleaning/organizational skills (she liked having me clean her desk when i'd visit) -- and she always let me know it. "you're fantastic, kiddo!" she'd write to me or exclaim on the phone, and it would make me feel like a gajillion dollars.
about 9 days before she would peacefully slump over at the dinner table and quietly leave this life, i happened to catch her at a lucid time on the phone. she was excited to know that Tummymuffin IV would be another great-grandson. "oh boy, your father is in trouble!" she hooted, "he won't know what to do with him, since he has only daughters!" she told me she was happy that it was looking like we would finally have a child; as a pregnancy loss survivor herself, she'd been supportive through the last several years of good news/bad news about her Great-Grandtummymuffins.
i'm deeply grateful that i was able to have a relationship with both my grandmothers; each of them strong women who lived long lives with energy, fullness, and a powerful love for their families. my mother shows no sign of deviating from this pattern; i have no reason to doubt my inheritance of female courage and spirit. with this full turn of the wheel of generations for me, i think about how high this sets the bar for me in my heritage. i promise you, TM4, i'll do my best. as another amazing female family member wrote to me: "you are lucky to have had loving grandparents, and that you had such quality time with them in life. life will renew soon, and your new son will look at you and you'll recognize something of Anne at that moment. that's some of the miracle." i believe her.

i love you, Grandma. enjoy meeting your Great-Grandtummymuffins Isabela, Tim, and Talitha. i'm sure you'll know who they are.