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Aunt Dorothy (from New York) is Gone

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited New York. Since Uncle Frank and Uncle Don picked us up at La Guardia stopping at a favorite place on the way home to eat before whisking up weary Californians to Pelham Manor and aunt Dorothy with the perfectly manicured and finicky everything was there to greet us.

This one will hit me hard. In her lucid moments I’m betting it’s hitting my grandmother the hardest. My grandmother is 96–out living her mother and father and many others by decades. And now her sister Dorothy at the age of 92 is gone too. R.I.P. My grandmother IS the last of her family.

I always counted myself luckiest among my cousins on my grandmother’s side (the Scottish Grant side). I was the oldest grand kid and I lived at my grandmother’s house in the 80s. So I got to hang with the old New Yorkers in their prime. I’d also lived back East when I was a kid and we’d spent a Thanksgiving with Dorothy’s family. I still remember something like a nine course meal or something like that and my 2nd cousin Gloria taking me on a long walk in the hopes that the exercise would make us just a tiny bit hungry again.

Every summer at my grandmother’s in Whittier, aunt Dorothy (from New York) would come out and bring a New York grandchild for a visit when that child turned 7.  And when she ran out of grandkids turning 7 she just came alone.  She–and her daughter Gloria–were the ones that always came out and so they were the ones the California side knew best. My grandmother had been the only one who moved out of New York and back in the day when it was far too expensive to visit and phone calls could only be so long before they were expensive too, she missed home. So she named her two daughters after her sisters, Peggy and Dorothy. Dorothy in turn named her daughter Gloria. Which is why we always referred to Dorothy as (from New York)–so as not to confuse her with our Dorothy here.

My grandmother–sarcastic in the way only people from the Bronx can be, was also very reserved and preferred to be gracious and quiet and not make waves if she didn’t have to.  Even if she was mad it came in mutters under her breath first. Not so her sister Dorothy. Dorothy sent back the dinner if something wasn’t right. Dorothy told you when you weren’t living quite right. Maybe they thought the same things but Dorothy was the one to let you know.

I love my grandmother to the ends of the earth but it was Dorothy that intrigued me. She just knew things. She had country club glamour, but had an absolute and brutal honesty at the same time.

My favorite memory of her however had nothing to do with her annual trips to California. My grandmother and I had flown to New York because aunt Muriel on Long Island wasn’t doing too well and word had it the cancer had spread. So I went with Uncle Frank to drop grandma with Muriel for a couple of days. He dropped me at the office with Dorothy and the two of us hung out alone for the first time ever. The moment we were alone our relationship changed. We talked about everything under the sun (and also about everyone under the sun). In spanish I’d say we were chismosa hounds that day–getting each other’s take on every family issue and every family member. Dorothy weighing in on everything. Dorothy giving answers to some things I’d always wanted to ask and some I didn’t even know enough to ask. I always attribute my obstinance and argumentative style to the Garcia side of my family, but Dorothy proved me wrong. It’s on both sides.

She spoke with me at a time of transition. When I was feeling less than sure of myself and my next move. I was divorcing my first husband and accepting a teaching job in Japan to get out of coping with San Francisco rents. I’d always wanted to go and it seemed the perfect time to escape. She gave me her blessing. Told me I needed to embrace my life and who I was and just go do what I wanted to. I didn’t have children yet. I wanted to do things. What was I waiting for?

We were talked out by the end of the day.  The next day I took off to Manhattan by myself tourist style, went to the Met and bought shoes Sex in the City style. And I committed myself to not looking back. I never really thanked her properly for all that. She came to San Francisco to visit me with my grandmother when I returned from Japan.  And I’d seen her off and on in southern California after that.

It’s nearly impossible for us (the California family) to separate Dorothy out from grandma and their other sister Peggy who died in the 1980s from cancer. The Grant Girls were a trio of loveliness–and the absolute life of any party.  I love to look at old polaroids of them from the 1960s and 70s. Backyard parties at my grandma’s. Peggy cracking jokes and cracking wise. Dorothy holding court. My grandmother fussing too much. All of them laughing. All of them singing. They really belonged together as a trio.

In these last years, the annual visits just couldn’t happen anymore. The two sisters could barely understand each other on the phone due to hearing loss and stroke. Dorothy had always made New York so close for us. It was because of her that we knew who everyone was back east and who they married and what they were doing these days. Without her we just never would have established a foothold in the New York my grandmother left for sixty years ago. Dorothy made it present for us.

She was hospitable and gracious and kind to us and made us feel –and especially made my grandmother feel–like New York wasn’t that far away at all.

I will miss her deeply.

 

 

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Women’s March: Sacramento

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Friday night my kids and I made the three hour trek to Davis to hang with a good friend and her kids. These kids were in play groups together back in the day and even though Carol moved away to Davis, we still keep in touch and get them together. Another friend from my early Greenville days moved to Sacramento–about 3 miles from where the Women’s March was starting on Saturday morning.

So after a somewhat harrowing drive in California’s storm season, including snow and a downed tree and a three hour drive….

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We got to Davis. The kids took off to their rooms to hang the way tweens/early teens do. I got busy assessing the hat situation. Carol bought a pussy purse! Which I now have because she’s a good friend and loves me for some inexplicable reason.

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At first the kids weren’t overly enthusiastic. It’s been a hard election everywhere but as we are in that red pocket low on education corner of California where it’s both beautiful and lethal it’s been really hard. Especially on my kids and especially on my daughter. She goes to school each day dreading a couple of kids who taunt her Mexican heritage and for not being Christian. And believe me a non-Christian kid who was taught about the beauty and love of Jesus Christ does not get how Christians can be into Trump.  I can’t explain it to her. I just say they probably aren’t aware of their own bible and tradition.  ANYHOW. The march immediately made her feel less alone. Her two friends live in more progressive areas now so they weren’t as downtrodden but they were amazed and felt the power of the march.

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My daughter and the other girls  loved the creativeness and the brashness of the signs. They immediately took out their phones to record them.

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ANd so we marched. We marched for REspect. Reproductive Rights. We marched for Trump’s victims of sexual assault. We marched for arts and humanities and education about to be cut. We marched for Education. We marched for rerorductive health. We walked to protest

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Organizers said there were supposed to be about 8K people and it was more like 20K–now I’m hearing of totals more towards 30K. I’d believe it. We were packed like sardines but happy all the same.

State Controller Betty Yee lead us in an Oath on the state capitol steps  to swear to protect and defend each other in these dark times. Warm and fuzzy day–even in the bitter cold weather.

It was a great day!

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A New Year, A New Resistance and a Future Generation

Writer and editor China Martens has a kickstarter campaign going to fund a 2nd edition of “The Future Generation” –it’s a radical zine anthology on radical parenting and community. Martens co-edited last year’s phenomenal book of essays by revolutionary mothers.

Now she’s bringing her 2007 zine anthology back to life. Consider helping out her kickstarter campaign. Much has happened in 10 years since and now more than ever an anthology on radical parenting seems appropriate. Here’s the 2007 version:

Future Generation Zine

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Check out the campaign and video here!

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The Last Thank You of 2016 — Library Project

….and it is two days late!

Much has been made of the disaster of 2016, with its notable take down of artists and musicians and cultural points of light and hope.

I kept thinking of Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time when the kids are with the Happy Medium and she is forced by one of the Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which etc to show the kids a happy planet, and a dark planet and then–she shows them Earth. Darkness of course, has  a strong hold on Earth. There is death and suffering and fascism reigning –but there are also those who fight the darkness.

It’s not that part that threw me as a child. I was well aware of darkness. But when the Mrs. W ensemble explain to the children that one can fight the darkness through love and through creation and through art is when my mind was opened up as a kid. There’s that paragraph were L’Engle mentions a sampling of darkness fighters: Jesus. Buddha. Shakespeare. That was it. Writers fight darkness. Teachers fight darkness. I was hooked.

Fighting Evil Through Art and Creation.  I think of that a lot these days. That’s why David Bowie’s death or even Carrie Fisher’s hits people so strongly. Because their art fought the darkness. And there is so much darkness. That’s why Leonard Cohen was the patron saint of my family. Because he offered a path of light through the dark forest.

If I have any resolution for 2017 it is to step up the fight against the darkness. I am needed now more than ever. You are needed now more than ever.

In between the mass shootings and the mass “post-truth” lies and the mass denial of the humanity of refugees, and the declaration of a party in our country to declare war on an already decimated environment there is hope.

There is Standing Rock.

There are all the kid drawings and paintings my kids leave on the dining room table.

There are mayors and cities declaring themselves sanctuary.

There are women getting ready to help women in dark states protect their basic rights.

There is defiance. There is resisting.

I look at 2016 though–the middle of the year, the summer, and there is you. Thousands of you. Who heard a plea for books and donated books to a strange woman in a forgotten town so that she could build a library for kids–to get books into the hands of kids.

That is what I’m looking to as encouragement. As my bright and shiny example of lightness in the world in need of defiance. You who read this and who donated a book. You participated in an act of defiance in a culture hell-bent on being proud of its own illiteracy, its own ignorance. You. Gave. Books. You. Made. Readers. I can’t stress enough how important and profound that is. Fighting the darkness.

Life has moved on beyond the summer. We opened. We checked out so far roughly  500 some books to students and an additional 400 to teachers and about 100 to community members and parents. There are waiting lists for some popular titles (Hamilton Soundtrack/Harry Potter Cursed Child, for example).

We gave bags of books away to foster kids who may not come back to our school district. We gave books to 7 schools other than our own. I officially have a box in the back of my car of duplicate titles to give away to kids who look like they could use them.  Lightness.

The school district is leaving us alone finally. Religious parents are going on to fight other battles. Slowly things are shaping up.  I am in the library five hours a week as a volunteer. I meet with students then, make recommendations, shelve a bit–put out new titles that are still coming in . I make displays.  And I always leave there feeling like I am fighting the darkness. This world is often not a place where writer/artist mothers of limited means feel successful. But because of our thousands of donors, I feel successful every time I walk in the library. Together we have brought light into a world.

It’s January 2nd.

I am at my father-in-law’s in Santa Monica with my kids. We are going museum hopping today and tomorrow and later on we’ll go to my aunt’s and visit my grandmother. I love bringing my kids back to the homeland of Los Angeles so we can soak in the best of southern California for a week. I love the Deep North in spite of itself. It really is beautiful (and currently filled with much needed snow). The environment is, if not pristine, as close to it on the planet as you can find. Lightness. Strength. Beauty.

But I also love  Los Angeles, the city of my birth. Yesterday on New Year’s Day my kids’ godfather and I saw Rogue One at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood (IMAX 3D because, of course) and then topped it off with a nostalgic trip to Canter’s on Fairfax for a Brooklyner and a black and white cookie. Lightness. Strength.

Today we head out to the Museum of Tolerance and later to LACMA for the Diego & Picasso exhibit. Tomorrow the California Academy of Science Pixar Exhibit and then my sister in law will whisk them away for fun while I catch up on work and a double feature of films that will never reach the north in a theater.  I will interview a couple of people as I wrap up my book proposal I’ve been working on.

Meanwhile my husband and mother are in the north keeping the house warm from winter and managing their own fights against the darkness.

It feels like we are all gathering strength for 2017.

I haven’t said it in awhile but –Thank you, again.  Know that you are appreciated daily and have provided one small town with a shining example of hope and humanity that we see and feel every time we walk through the door of the library. You decided to fight the fight (along with me) against boredom and ignorance and despair. I will always be grateful for that.

Happy New Year.–Margaret