One of my themes for this week’s posts is stormy weather.
Does anyone remember the movie, Stormy Weather? I sure don’t. It was way before my time. What I do remember, though, is convincing my grandmother to join me when I was very young to see Lena Horne on Broadway who sang it in her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.
I adored both women, Lena and Louise, my grandmother. In their own ways, they were both champions of Civil Rights. As women of their era, they had to pick their moments.
Unlike Lena, my grandmother did not hail from an upper middle-class stratum. She grew up in modest circumstances, although she would never have thought nor said so, raised six children, and went to college in her 50s. She loved to read and became a teacher after she received her degree. Her first day in college she met her roommate who was black. The woman said to my grandmother, “I was just waiting for your reaction. If it had at all been negative, I would have walked out in two seconds.” My grandmother looked puzzled and said, “Why would I ever be negative to you?” The two became friends for life.
Like Lena, Louise was fearless. How else do you marry into a huge family and raise six children in the Pennsylvania mountains while cooking and cleaning for scores of hunters during peak deer season to help the family financially? Some of the hunters were lodged in the home she and my grandfather lived in most of their adult lives. It was up a hill from the house he grew up in with his 15 siblings. It was a pretty modest home during the early years of their marriage. But there was always room for everyone as the family grew, and my many cousins and I wanted to be no place else.
How did my grandmother find time to strengthen the spine of her grandchild who was bullied growing up even before he knew he was gay for sure? She and her daughters and sons and my grandfather all supported me in understated, loving ways. It’s probably why I am alive today. They gave me a foundation to stand up for myself when it counts, even when clouds gather and thunder can be heard.
Growing up with my young grandmother (she had my mother while still a teenager) as a role model also had its light moments. We both loved Billie Jean King, Chris Evert (whom decades later I met) and watching Wimbledon. I had this crazy notion of inviting my grandmother to see a Broadway show and we went. I wish my daughter could have known her, but she does a bit because Ellen, like her great-grandmother, grandmother (my mother) and me loves to read and keep singing no matter what the weather conditions.