Tag Archives: grandmother

Seeing my grandmother

I’ve been seeing my grandmother lately. She died more than a decade ago. I catch glimpses of her out of the corner of my eye, moments of recognition that surprise me. It’s not a seasonal issue. It is simply that I am starting to look like her.

My maternal grandmother was born in 1920 – next year will be the hundredth anniversary of her birth and I plan to treat that the way we treat the centenaries of more famous people. She was therefore 57 when I was born. I don’t have any conscious memories of her face at that point in her life, but I think something is remembered unconsciously. I’m a way off 57, but my face is changing as faces always do, and I am moving towards my own grandmother face.

I’ve been thinking a lot about her in recent weeks. She habitually wore trousers, shirts and caps, had short hair, and went by the nickname ‘Barty’. I wonder what she would say to me if we could sit down with a coffee and talk about gender identity, and being non-binary because while she didn’t have those words, I think she’d have found them interesting. I have no idea what she would have said.

I think a lot about the pain she lived with, too. What she had used to be called rheumatism, but that diagnosis is no longer fashionable. The hard to pin down aches and pains are now more often called fibromyalgia. I’ve thought a lot about the trauma in her life, and her persistence, and her refusal to be defined by pain and diminishing mobility in old age. I don’t know to what degree I will follow after her.

If I can muster half of my grandmother’s interest in life and sheer bloody-mindedness around keeping going, I won’t do so badly. Aging doesn’t alarm me if I can age in a similar trajectory to her. I’ll wear more black than she did, and I’m never going to develop her enthusiasm for daytime quiz shows on TV, but on the whole, she’s a good role model for aging well. She kept walking everywhere for as long as she could. She kept singing and playing music and making art and cake. There were always cats. She had a lot of adopted daughters, and I remember her garden as always full of butterflies when I was a child. Like me, she collected up rubbish and made stuff out of it.


Maiden, Mother, Grandmother identities

When you are a maiden, you have a name of your own. It may have your paternal name with it, but it is a distinct name, and it is yours. People will call you by that name.

Babies do not automatically call their parents mother, father, mummy, daddy. You have to teach them. You may have to teach them by naming yourself as mummy in front of them. It is easier for the child to learn that you are mummy if they do not hear other adults calling you by your name. Your maiden name. And so you may start calling the father of your child ‘daddy’ and he may call you ‘mummy’ and to other adults in your life you may also be ‘mummy’ for the benefit of your child. I didn’t go this way, but I’ve seen it done.

Granny is not a life change that results from your own action in the way that becoming mummy does. Being granny may mean that the people who once called you mummy are now calling you granny so that their children learn to call you granny. Other adults in your life may choose to reinforce this. You may find yourself calling our own offspring mum and dad for the benefit of the grandchild.

Of course there’s a similar pattern for men. However, men have traditionally had roles and identities outside the household. People to call them by their names and treat them as distinct individuals. Inside the house, trapped in the domestic sphere, there is a lot less room to be anyone other than mother or grandmother. Not a specific, named identity. Not a distinct person. A title. A job description. A loss of personal identity into the ocean of mothers and grandmothers.

Names have power. I wonder how many of our female ancestors lost their sense of personal identity to the titles given them.