Southern California 1928 — 1938

As in every story, mine begins at the beginning.

I sit her trying to decide what was important to my life and what was negligible, and I realize it was ALL important; every stumble or achievement, as well as all the people who contributed to it.

The grandparents who influenced my life the most were Jim Black and Nellie Kendall. Jim was a high school track star who came down from Montreal, Canada to compete in Nellie’s high school in New Hampshire. They married the day she graduated, and moved to California with their two little girls in the early 1900″s.

Young, and with no money but with the pipe dreams often associated with youth, Grandma made a bee line to Beverly Hills, where she rented a large home next door to Harold Lloyd, an early comic movie star with large horn-rimmed glasses and an acrobatic bent.

The next problem to come up was how to pay for all this posh lifestyle, so she did the only thing she felt she was good at; she rented out rooms and made hats for society ladies at premium prices. I don’t know how the celebrity neighbors felt about all this, but they didn’t live there long before they moved on to another rented house in Los Angeles, bringing their paying guests with them.

Grandma could be an overwhelming presence and she overwhelmed Jim and soon divorced him, leaving her to weather the storms of single motherhood, and Jim to love her forever after.

Nellie was an excellent seamstress and an excellent cook, the only skills she had learned as a daughter of privilege, and instead of merely renting our spare bedrooms, she elevated her paying guests to boarders.

The money Nellie made often didn’t stretch far enough, so my mother and aunt made sure the boarders ate while Nellie went out and got whatever job she could as waitress or hostess at hotel or restaurant. This was an additional skill she had, since she had often waited tables in the large resort her father owned in New Hampshire.

Plump and pretty, accompanied by a sense of humor, grandma was a magnet for the boys, and loved dancing and parties, though she allowed no drinking or smoking. No one ever dared do either in any house she lived in. She was married four times, and her last husband did both, so it was incredible to see her happily sitting at his feet with his pipe smoke drifting in swirls over her head. She had married him at the age of 76 saying she would marry “the devil himself if it would keep her from being a burden” to my mother. I guess there’s a reason behind every rhyme.

Though the two sisters were always close, Grandma and Georgia were opposite in every way. Auntie was taller and lean, and quite plain. Both Yankees, Georgia typified the usual definition of a strait-laced New Englander, though she possessed a wry sense of humor.
Auntie taught me that “Lips which touch a cigaroote shall never park beneath my snoot.” And that “Whistling girls and cackling hens always come to very bad ends.”

Nellie’s closet was always bursting with pretty clothes, while my recollection of Auntie’s small closet contained one “nice” dress, one or two everyday dresses, a pair of dress shoes and her everyday shoes. It would never have occurred to her to want more, though by my childhood evaluation, they were the “wealthy” part of the family. Later, after the Great Depression had begun to take its toll of every family, I remember asking my grandma if we were poor. She assured me that rather than “poor”, we were broke. We were broke for a very long time.

Nellie’s sister Georgia had chosen to go to normal school and became a teacher before she married Uncle Phil and moved to California. I mention this because Auntie was one of the great influences on my life and whose home sheltered me more times than I can remember.



I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities between elderly people as well as the differences between the old and the young. You might think that is a no-brainer, but it isn’t really. My circle of friends includes all ages from a post-toddler to several ladies in their mid-90’s, so I am aware of these anomalies firsthand.

An elderly woman of 90 had a collection of old coins which in her mind were quite valuable. She fussed and fumed for several months to have someone take them to a coin dealer and assure her they were worth a few thousand dollars. Whenever she thought of it, she telephoned several times a day to get someone to take them. Finally they were taken and evaluated and discovered to be worth about their face value and not much more. The dealer bought them, and when she got the news and the money, she insisted and believed she could have gotten more. Similarly a small child will obsess about a lost toy or an implied promise of an ice cream until his parent is ready to disown him. It’s futile to try to convince either of them that it is useless to complain. It is what it is.

A gentleman living in a nursing home once asked a relative to make out his income tax for him. It was a simple one, and was returned to the old fellow promptly, who then insisted they had done it wrong, and he should get more money. With that in mind, he took it to a CPA, and when it was returned, it was found to be correct down to the penny. Even though he had been out of line, there was no apology given to his original helper. By the same token the ingratitude of children is well-documented, so we don’t need to get into that.

Both age groups and our canine friends have a similar sense of Time. Their need to “get it done immediately” is important to them. In either case, if they don’t get it done it will be too late. In the aged, that conception is understandable. The child and the dog only conceive of the Now. They live in the moment. And all are capable of throwing a tantrum if that moment passes.

The child and those at the opposite end of the spectrum often have a compulsive need to “do it themselves”. They reject help, even though it’s often needed. Old fingers and very young fingers aren’t as agile as they might be, and even though they may botch the job, they insist upon doing it themselves and then despair when their efforts are less than perfect.

At an early age little folk tend to babble a lot, as do the older generation. Any nearby human being is ripe for a conversation, and they view everyone as fair game. You can send a talkative kid to bed, but certainly not his grandparent. We have an adult grandson who once talked his way from the San Francisco Bay area to Diamond Lake, Oregon seemingly without taking a break.

Maybe this is the reason that small children and their grandparents have such a good relationship. Their similarities connect them. Their view of Life is open and willing to take a chance. The child hasn’t learned suspicion, and the old ones think nothing untoward will happen to them. Both are easy prey for a good con man or woman. Both have selective memories and hearing.

You might think that is a cynical viewpoint, but I find the comparison extremely interesting. We go through the various stages of Life either suffering or enjoying the same manifestations and thoughts.

It is considered necessary to sigh painfully and call the Senior years the “Golden Years”, or to complain collectively about the similar trials of poor health. It somehow connects that age group in empathy. In the poor health department everybody is probably right. Bodies like houses and cars, wear out, and eventually everybody has something. During my years as an art gallery curator, when asked what my job description was, I just said “I Pull, Patch and Paint”. Pull the nails from the last show, patch the holes and paint over. There is a lot of similarity.


There is a new baby in our family which made me think again that it’s important to think about what your grandchildren will call you once they acquire the power of speech.  (At least any speech clear enough to decipher.)

Your children don’t have a lot of choices, it’s usually some variation of “mama, daddy, mom, dad,” — you get it.   Friends of ours solved that problem by having their children address them by their given names.  The father prefers simply to be called “Captain”.   Rather intimidating but it does lend a certain aura of authority.  What kid is going to mess around Grandpa’s workshop without asking if the “Captain” allows it?

But grandparents’ monikers  need some thought.   Assuming you will be a grandparent for a long time, preferably long after those cute babies become grown people with children of their own, cuddly cute nicknames simply won’t do.  A friend asked me sometime ago what my grandchildren called me.  That’s an interesting question because they all seem to choose their own way of getting your attention.  (Though I once had a son-in-law who never called me anything.)  After I shared my various pet names,  I asked her what she desired her grandchild-to-be to call her, and she said “Auntie Jane, I’m too young to be a grandma”.  Of course that all changed once the dear little thing made it’s appearance.

I thought the original grandson’s choice of “Bammi and Bubba” was really cute.  I even envisioned a little band with him and his brother on various instruments and me on the guitar, but that all changed when a neighbor kid a couple of years older laughed at him, for using such babyish names, and the next thing I knew, I was “Grand-ma” enunciated very clearly.  “Bubba”, however remains, and  has carried on into great-grandparenthood, and now my husband  is “Bub” to all of the various grandchildren, and many of our children’s friends  as well.

I, meanwhile, have numerous forms of identification, none of which happens to be “Grandma”!    I thought “GG”for great-grandmother would be  an easy one, and one grandson in his 30’s says it’s hip!  It’s flattering that he thinks I’m “hip”, or maybe it’s just the name!