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My Grandmother's P.U.N.K. Heart

My grandmother would have turned 99 years old in January. She and my mother were my primary caretakers for much of my life, and we were blessed with an especially close relationship. Our household became multi-generational after my 11th birthday, as my mother and grandparents bought a house together in the Denver ‘burbs, and Grandma became more of an influence on my life as I navigated daily life with her well into my twenties. I moved out of the family home when Grandma moved into assisted living, I visited home as often as I could between marriage and career, and she passed in 2016. The weekend after Grandma Bea's birthday, I saw a curious little girl and her grandmother during my visit to the Museum of Nature and Science, and their interaction so poignantly reminded me of me and Gram when I was that small. A little later I was talking with my mother about something I read on the PRSL Facebook group and it struck me. Many of the values that defined me, and also drew me to PRSL as an organization, were things that Grandma taught me. I floated the idea to Mom and she agreed that Grandma really embodied the P.U.N.K. acronym (Positivity, Unity, Nurture, Kindness) on which PRSL was founded, and passed this legacy to her daughter and granddaughter. We just always thought of it in different terms!

So, How Grandma Bea was P.U.N.K (According to Wendy & Lynne)

Grandma Bea, Lynne (my mom) and me, July 2014 Lynne: The word I most often heard to describe Mom was sweet. I believe this to be almost synonymous with Positivity. It's sometimes difficult to think of specific examples because avoiding negativity was so central to all she did. Life with her father was difficult because of the nature of his business when she was young (still during prohibition and the speakeasy after the repeal of federal prohibition). She felt the disapproval of 'society' deeply. Coupled with his increasing alcoholism and less than kind treatment of her mother, by the time Grandma left Ben when Mom was close to 15, she had overriding negative feelings about her father. When I was young, she rarely talked about her father, at the same time absolutely accepting and loving and respecting her stepfather, Bob, who her mother married during my mother's senior year. But over the years, she began telling positive stories about her father. She talked about his kindness and loyalty to friends particularly during hard times. He actively spoke and acted against prejudice and was particularly dismayed by the treatment of native Americans. He was great with animals and Mom was rarely without a dog during her life. He instilled in her a love of nature and the outdoors that lasted her lifetime. In the end, she was able to see and accept her father as a flawed man who exemplified both negative and positive traits. I don't belive she thought in terms of absolutes. Things were never black or white. I think her positivity was truly expressed by her acceptance of people without judgment or criticism. Wendy: I think the fact she was drawn to a lot of progressive values, choosing to see people holistically and like, uplifting others was sort of her purpose in life. It wasn’t activism per se, but she was a very community-oriented woman. I think that’s a good way to say she embodied the value of Unity.

Lynne: Service to others, enriching the lives of others, striving to make life better for all was another key part of Mom's outlook and life. As a young mother in the days of the stay-at-home wife, she was very active in our community. She was a member of the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization dedicated to providing clear information about issues and candidates. She was active in our school activities, often volunteering to be a 'room mother' who supported our teachers. She was active as a Cub Scout and Girl Scout leader. And of course, she was active as a member of the Friendship Sunday School Class of our church for more than 50 years. When she became a teacher at age 40, she was particularly adamant that all students be given attention and opportunity regardless of race or economic standing. Her first year of teaching was in a small town near Greeley teaching first grade. At that time, there was a fairly large population of very poor migrant workers who worked in the sugar beet fields and whose children often spoke little English and would most likely only be in school for a few months before the family would move on. While many of the teachers at her school told her to 'just put them in the back of the room and let them color as they wouldn't be there long enough to really learn anything,' Mom couldn't do that. She worked just as hard for those students, even harder in many ways, as she did for her more affluent students.

Wendy: She also recognized that morality and legality could get really muddy around some issues. I know she taught English as a second language through her church when I was in high school and college. She has to have realized that not all of the students in the program were legal, even if they weren’t her students in particular, and I don’t think she particularly cared. They worked hard and she saw her students as good people. Lynne: Nurture – Again, it's almost impossible to separate this characteristic from Mom's intrinsic self. One of life's lessons she learned from being a child of the Depression, and more importantly, from both her parents, was that your community looks out for one another. Her father helped many of their neighbors from the Sandhills, who like her family had to give up their failing homesteads in the late 1920's and into the 1930's. Wendy: She was a born mother figure, too. Besides her teaching career, I know she always treated my friends well and took the time to get to know them. Considering I hung out with a bunch of – unconventional and unique people – I think they really valued this. They used to ask after her, even if it had been years since they’d seen her. Lynne: I always took lessons from the ways in which she nurtured her friendships. She carried on extensive correspondence in the age of snail mail with so many people who she had encountered along the way. She maintained contact with a high school teacher who had been a young teacher in the small Wyoming town where she attended high school in 1942. She still wrote to him and visited him in his home in California when she was in her 60's. While her two sisters were not particularly close to each other, Mom maintained and nurtured relationships with her many nephews and nieces throughout her life. Lynne: She was treasured by all because she valued and respected other people. She recognized it is often the little things that matter the most. Wendy: She embodied Kindness and empathy.

Lynne: I suppose the school she taught at in Littleton could have been considered a low-income school in an older suburb. It's no longer there. But She talked about going to KMart to buy some clean clothes, shoes, and a winter coat for a little boy who desperately needed them and then worrying about how to present them to him in a respectful manner, recognizing that she did not want to appear disdainful of a family obviously struggling. Wendy: But she could be stubborn as heck when it came to what she felt was right. I remember you (Mom) telling me stories about how she threatened to leave Grandpa Wendy (yes, readers, I’m named after my grandfather) if he moved the family to Oklahoma after he came back from WWII because she didn’t like how strict the Jim Crow laws were there, and she took her best friend and her husband to task in a letter about them being homophobic towards their eldest daughter when she (the daughter) came out. I think the kids call that radical empathy these days, but Grandma wasn’t afraid to speak up and make people reconsider their point of view. Glad she used her stubbornness for good causes, mostly! Grandma Bea (January 11, 1924-October 23, 2016) was an iron fist in a velvet glove and definitely P.U.N.K. I was so blessed to learn at her feet, and carry on her legacy. I like to think that, had she been born in a different era, she would have felt right at home at PRSL.

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