I was thinking about Grandmother today. She is in her late nineties. Nearly one hundred years old. I started listing, in my head, the changes in the world in her life time. She was born, raised, and has lived all her life right here in Oklahoma. When she was a girl, there were no highways, no cars for the farmers and ranchers, no electricity in every home, no indoor plumbing, and no telephones. Laundry was done in vats of water heated over an open fire in the yard, and hung to dry on fences and bushes. Bread wasn’t made in a bread maker or picked up at the grocery, it was homemade, sweets were a luxury, and the most common form of transportation was one’s feet.
Grandmother has seen the coming of air flight, men walk on the moon, and space exploration. The modern age of medicine that can keep a person alive, almost indefinitely, began in her lifetime. Today, there are cures for disease that used to wipe out whole generations, and that cure is one dose of medication. Today, there are diseases that were unknown in her days as a mother that can devastate and devour children and adults, and we still have no cure for them. But, maybe, when we are nearly one hundred years old, there will be.
She had never heard of computers, modems, the internet, or Microsoft, and still thinks computers are toys that just beep and make noise. Grandmother never played with a Gameboy, skateboard, or had a dolly that talked, drank a bottle, and had to have its nappy changed. She was doing the work of a full grown woman at the age of 14, not talking on the phone and wondering when her parents were going to understand her. She was much too busy, cooking, cleaning, working the farm, and looking after her family to worry about such mundane things. It wasn’t because her parents were mean, it was because everyone had to work together, and work hard, to survive from year to year.
She watched the oil boom and bust here in Oklahoma again and again. She saw the slow pace of the world around her become faster each generation, until it seemed to spin by so quickly it made her dizzy. In her day, courting was done on a Friday night, or Sunday afternoon after church, in front of the entire family, and a kiss was a commitment. Movies were not common, and when they finally came to her town, it was an EVENT to go to a movie. Smoking was something men did, and if a woman smoked, well, she was fast. After the cultural changes that took place in World War II, grandmother still thought women who smoked were fast, but she learned to adjust like everyone else. She saw women move from the home to the workplace, first as they needed to support families torn by war, then as the feminist movement dictated.
She once told me that she understood why so many women wanted to work outside the home, after all, the house practically takes care of itself. Look at all the modern appliances now. Vacuum cleaners, no more need to move and beat rugs every week; refrigerators, no need to have ice delivered or bottle foods and put them in the cellar; washing machines, no need to spend the day bent over a scrub board and washtub. Chemicals that clean and scrub all by themselves, air conditioning, and heating that doesn’t require the chopping, hauling, and use of wood to warm the house. Frozen foods and microwave ovens means that a meal can be prepared in minutes instead of hours. With that much time on their hands, women were bound to want to go to work.
In her life time, she has lived through two world wars, Korea, Viet Nam, and Desert Storm, plus many other warlike crises that involved the United States. She has seen the advent of equal rights, feminism in its modern form, women in the workforce, commonality of divorce, welfare replace charity organizations, the move from an agro-economic based state to an oil/industrial based state, and cycle of birth, life, and death repeated over and over.
There are four GENERATIONS of family living who are all directly related to Grandmother. Each on has gone through the trials of its particular age. Grandmother gave birth to three boys. One became a lawyer, one a doctor, one a businessman. None of them stayed on the farm, and when Grandfather retired, they moved to town too. Her husband served in World War I, all of her boys served in World War II, and her grandchildren in other serious actions. Her boys were in the first generation to be in the mobile age, cars became common, and life started to move faster.
Her grandchildren were in the midst of the “revolution” of the turbulent 60’s and 70’s where cultural, social, and family standards were obliterated and rebuilt into something most of us are still trying to figure out. Her grandchildren were the first to shout about “rights” and experiment with sex, drugs and rock and roll openly.
It is her great grandchildren’s generation who saw the advent of gender issues, openness of alternative lifestyles, lifestyles, by the way, that grandmother still whispers about in vague euphemisms because they embarrass her mightily. Her great grandchildren have taken the word “alternative” and turned it into a an icon for whatever they want to do since there doesn’t seem to be a particular pattern to follow any longer.
Her great great granddaughter is just four years old, but already understands how to use a telephone, computer, and all about money. She knows the microwave will heat things, and the refrigerator will keep things cold. She knows more about television and how it works than Grandmother ever will. She knows more about the world at four than Grandmother did at twenty, or even thirty, because she has been on a jet plane to England, she has gone across the United States in a car, and visited the great monuments to the past. Her world is even more complex than that of the previous generation, and one can only suppose what will come in the future.
Grandmother won’t be with us much longer. She is a tiny, withdrawn, elderly body that sleeps most of the time. She needs twenty four hour care, and she will probably never remember my name again. She deserves her rest, and our deepest respect. Grandmother has become an icon, a symbol, of all that glued this motley crew together as a family. She is the last of her generation, the beginning fabric of all of us who live and when she dies, we will begin, slowly, to unravel into separate groups, until all who knew her are gone as well.
It is our progeny, then, who will remember us as we remember her. We will be the old folks who were so odd with their love beads, pot, and wine. The old folks who wore funny clothes, used archaic communication devices like telephones that plugged in, and the internet. We will be the ones that our progeny look back on with affection, and, hopefully, respect. Like Grandmother, we will weave the fabric from whence our family grows. Will we, like Grandmother’s family, slowly fray and unravel? Probably, but that is the beauty of it all, because each succeeding generation gets to weave a new pattern based on the history and colours of the last generations. By adding a bit here and a bit therefrom the past, and new colours and patterns from their lives, the fabric lives on and on. Sure the stitches and weave are different, but the threads of life are all tied together and become stronger as each generation grows. That’s what family is all about. Grandmother would approve.