My Maternal Grandma

By Sierra Voorhies

(Hackers, her name is not the answer to any security questions. Go away.)

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my Grandma Rios, but I would also like to share a little bit about my Grandma Carol. She’s amazing, she’s a Virgo, and she’s incredibly smart; she likes to clean, and red lipstick is a part of her signature look. Unfortunately, my grandma has directly faced many women’s issues in her life. One of her stories goes like this:

Carol worked at the Bell Telephone Company, and over her career she held a bunch of different job duties there. She worked switch boards, installed telephones, fixed telephone wires on high poles, put up satellite dishes, and more. One Friday night at 5 pm, when Carol was in her 30’s, she was installing a dish on an apartment building roof. Carol was three stories up on a huge ladder, when a man from a third-floor apartment opened his window underneath her and said, “Can I ask a question? Are you a boy or a girl?” 

My grandma laughs at this today, but at the time this was incredibly irritating. She was wearing steel-toe boots, a button-up work shirt, and a hat—I don’t think she minded looking androgynous, but having her gender brought up and questioned was one of the things she had to deal with on the job, despite her gender being irrelevant and her being busy. In this case, her womanhood was being questioned because of her presentation and her profession in a field largely dominated by cis men.

Grandma Carol also took a lot of flak from cis men coworkers and customers. They would give her difficult assignments in rough neighborhoods, send her under houses (literally underneath them) without backup, and not tell her about safety guidelines—all to “test” her, to see what she would do, or to pass off assignments that others had declined to do. Carol says that they were wanting her to say no, hoping to prove that a woman couldn’t do the job. She did every single job they sent her way.

Today, my grandma tells these experiences like funny stories, but at the time they were offensive and often dangerous incidents of workplace discrimination. Equalrights.org has a comprehensive definition of gender discrimination and lists this as an example: “being held to different or higher standards, or being evaluated more harshly, because of your gender identity, or because you don’t act or present yourself in a way that conforms to traditional ideas of femininity or masculinity.” If that doesn’t hit the nail on the head, I don’t know what does. Even though this was 30–50 years ago, gender discrimination at work is still a problem. The Pew Research Center says roughly 4 out of 10 women have experienced gender discrimination, whether that be by earning less money, receiving little jabs, or being passed over for opportunities and promotions. My grandma doesn’t like to consider herself a victim of gender discrimination, probably because she’s a very fortunate and generous woman, but she should not have had to experience what she did, and I think it’s important to talk about the past and present, and contextualize issues women and gender minorities continue to experience. 

 

Mama Ofelia

By Adriana Miranda

When I arrived in Mexico in 2018, I felt like I was meeting my grandma for the first time. I spent the earliest years of my life with her in Mexico, but I never had any memory of her. She remembered me of course, we’ve talked on the phone often, she recognized the toddler that used to spend so much time over there. However things were different now, I was grown up, out as a lesbian to everyone, and scared that maybe I wasn’t who she wanted me to be. Don’t get me wrong, the woman is a powerful, single business woman, a literal bruja, and a feminist in her own way. She has never been a fan of “staying in her place.” But she’s still my grandma from a small town in central Mexico, so I was still nervous.  

The second I arrived, all the fear was gone. She made me feel nothing but unconditional love and support. She started joking that Frida Kahlo was her girlfriend and favorite artist; just trying to show me that she recognized queer Mexican icons and make me feel more comfortable. She also started to compliment my tattoos and ask about them. As intimidated as I was initially, my week back in Mexico brought us so close, and we learned so much about each other. My grandma made me feel like if she, of all people, can love and celebrate who I am, I deserve nothing less. Before arriving, I had told myself, “even if she doesn’t accept me, it’s okay because we’re not that close,” but I underestimated how much of an impact it would have on me to receive her unconditional love and celebration. She truly changed how I view myself and my belonging in the world.  

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

 

Grandma Kay

By Taylor Michl

Before she retired, my Grandma Kay owned a travel agency. She and her late husband used to travel the world together. Her life revolved around collecting anecdotes, souvenirs, and friends from every corner of the world, and sharing the joy of travel with others.  

When Kay’s oldest grandchild graduated high school, she started a tradition. For the next several years, she would take each grandchild, individually, on a trip to the location of their dreams – almost anywhere in the world. As you can imagine, this is the most impactful gift that I have ever received.  

In 2017, Grandma Kay and I embarked on a week-long trip to Ireland. Learning together, watching the rich green hills unfold in front of us, drinking Guinness in a dark pub, and observing her futile attempts at charming a fellow tourist into going on a date with me, are memories that I will cherish forever.  

Grandma Kay is not my biological grandmother; she is the biological grandmother of my (half) sisters. However, she treated me as her own since the day I was born – so much so that it took me at least a decade to learn that we were not biologically related. When I came out, she immediately began researching queer and trans identities, initiating nuanced discussions with me about her learning. She is one of the kindest, most brilliant people I know.  

Grandma Kay is a model for what it means to be a true life-long learner, as she has a constant hunger for new experiences, new friendships, and new information. Her life is a reminder to us all to soak up every possible ounce of richness that the human experience has to offer.  

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

My Lola

By Arzie Umali

My family came to America when I was a little girl. Although it wasn’t the plan, we ended up staying and making a life here. As I was growing up, most of my family was in the Philippines, including my grandparents, so I never got to know them very well. The person who I came to know as my “grandmother,” was the woman my father met when he first arrived in Kansas City. She was a widow and didn’t have any children of her own, so she “adopted” our family. She became our Lola. 

She was not like my friends’ grandmothers. She didn’t bake, she didn’t sew, she didn’t garden, she didn’t decorate her house with lace or flowers. My Lola liked to drink beer. She drove a Mustang. She went hunting. She loved to travel. Her house was a mid-century modern ranch that was decorated with a bear-skin rug (from a bear she shot herself) and exotic carpets, furniture, and art that she picked up on her travels.  

My Lola taught me how to be strong and independent. She owned her own company. She was what my parents called a “workaholic.” She left for her office in the morning and came home late at night. I often stayed up to wait for her and when she got home, we would drink tomato juice and eat peanut butter on crackers.   

My Lola was always the boss, and she taught me that there was nothing wrong with being bossy. She would bring my brothers and me to work with her and we could tell right away that she was in charge. We would go to meetings with her and play under the big conference table while she talked about grown-up stuff with the other people in the room — mostly men. She was smart and confident, but also kind and generous — one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. She always made sure everyone was taken care of and treated fairly. 

My Lola died when I was 13. I haven’t really had a grandmother-figure in my life for the 40 years since. But what she left with me was my sense of independence and empowerment. So, when I was in middle school (shortly after she passed away) and a teacher told me that by being disagreeable I wasn’t acting “lady-like” — even though I stood there stiff and in shock at those words I had never heard before — I remembered my Lola and told myself, yes I was. 

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

My Grandfather

By Brianna Green

It seems silly to write about my grandfather as a grandmother figure, but he was the person who came to my mind. My grandfather has been gone for almost decade now. He died suddenly from a heart attack in his early seventies. A week after his funeral, my grandmother found out she had stage four lung cancer and died four months later. My mom likes to say that God took my grandfather first because He knew that my grandfather wouldn’t have been able to handle my grandmother’s death (the year they died, they would’ve celebrated their fiftieth anniversary).  

My grandfather was a funny man. He chain-smoked cigarettes like it was nobody’s business. (Seriously, he’d start a cigarette in one room, leave it there, go to a different room, and immediately light a new one.) He made inappropriate jokes about people’s looks and loved saying “God damn it” at least 20 times a day. But all of his weird quirks are things that we love to reminisce about now and make fun of him for. My dad is great at impersonating my grandfather, it’s almost uncanny. We all love and miss him and my grandmother a lot. 

My grandfather didn’t teach me much about my family history nor about the traditions we might have had. However, he did teach me two things (unintentionally, I think). First, he taught me to love everyone equally. Don’t get me wrong, I love and miss my grandmother, but she had a favorite grandchild, and everyone knew it. She doted on and spoiled my older brother (the only grandson), so my grandfather would show a little extra love to me and my two girl cousins. He made sure that we felt loved too while at their house.  

Secondly, he taught me to live a good life and not be scared of death. I’m still extremely scared to die, but I want to make sure I live a good, fulfilling life so when I am older and closer to death’s door, I’m not scared. I asked my grandfather once if he was scared to die (a year or two before he did), and he said no. He was happy with how his life was and he was ready to go whenever it was his time. His words have always stuck in my mind and I hope I’m as satisfied when it’s my time to go.  

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

Feeling Loved

By Ace Garrett

The lovely lady on the left is my grandma. My brother and I have loved her with our whole hearts since we were little kids. She is kind, smart, independent, and incredibly generous. When we were young, she would take us to Chuck E. Cheese, watch movies with us, and put us to sleep with back rubs and her own made-up bedtime stories.

Before I can even remember, our grandma would call my brother and I sunshine. “How are you doing, sunshine?” she’d ask. In our eyes, this became her trademark, so we’ve always called her Grandma Sunshine. (I was quite surprised to learn that this is not, in fact, her name). 

As a grown woman I have been incredibly lucky to still have a close relationship with her. She was the first person I came out to after my brother and parents, and she has more faith in me and my identity than anyone else. She and I spend weekends together, we go out for lunch, we talk on the phone, and my family and I visit her to watch football in the Fall. Recently, I have been calling her more often. I have been having a hard time feeling connected to people, and feeling like anyone is in the bleachers cheering me on. But Grandma Sunshine didn’t hesitate to tell me I can call her any time to tell her anything. She really wants to stay up to date with me, and that means a lot. 

Grandma Sunshine has always made me feel loved, heard, and like I am worthy of her time. I believe that feeling wanted by those around us is really important to self-worth and mental health, and it isn’t always easy to feel that way. Thankfully, my grandma taught me what it should feel like, what it feels like to be loved. 

This is only one of the infinite things I have learned thanks to my grandma, but it has been an especially comforting lesson this semester. I know I have her to lean on, and I know what that should feel like as I make new friends and pursue new relationships. I implore you all to make sure your loved ones feel your love and support. And I hope you have someone in your life who always makes you feel like you belong. That is a gift indeed. 

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

Grandma Rios

By Sierra Voorhies

My grandma Paula Rios died a couple years ago. She and I were pretty close and she had a few core tenets that she instilled in me.

One was the importance of a higher education. Paula got married and moved out of her home when she was about 18, and then she had kids, moved to California with her husband, and they raised my dad and aunt together. It turns out my grandpa wasn’t faithful to my grandma. She was sticking by him “for the kids” as people say, but when he started taking advantage of her financially, and his girlfriend reached out to her, my grandma finally called it quits. 

At this point, they had moved back to Missouri, and my grandma decided to go to UMKC to get a degree and a teaching license. She specialized in special education and taught for over 20 years before she retired to a home she paid for by herself. She didn’t get married again. She chose to remain unmarried even though she had a long term live-in partner—maybe because she had been burned by my grandpa.

She is the person who taught me how to write my name—on a dry erase board in her living room, leaning up against the ledge of the fireplace. One thing she said to me then, which I probably didn’t understand, was that I was going to go to college straight out of high school. “No breaks,” she always said. When I was older she was proud of me: I went to college just like she wanted. 

One day when we were hanging out, I told her I was spending a lot of money fixing up my old car. The next week, or maybe two weeks later she gave me a call right after class and said she was going to buy me a new car. 

That happened during the school year. We stayed close that school year, and that summer I studied abroad in Seville, in Spain. I got a call in the middle of my program—she was in the hospital. I didn’t think anything could ever happen to her.  She didn’t want me to know, but I later learned that she was struggling with brain cancer. 

When I came home from Europe, I remember she asked me for a drive to the hospital. Towards the end of her life, I took her to get meds, and hung around the house with her, and tried to help her partner manage all of their finances, which she had been the main organizer of. 

Her dying was the first major grief I had ever been through. She lives on in me and my brother and her children, my father and my aunt, in her siblings and in all the people she impacted as a teacher. Education and higher education were the most important things to her, because she saw them as a key to independence. If I had ever been reluctant to get a higher education, she would have thrown a fit, because she never wanted me to be vulnerable to financial abuse, or be dependent on someone else, like she once was. 

She was one of the strongest, softest, smartest people I knew, and I love her. I hope you all can think of your elders and see some of the lessons they taught you, even if their history or your relationship isn’t perfect.

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

Snap Shot

By Brooke Davidoff

Snap Shot

A snap shot,
falls out of a
book
and floats to the floor.
Frozen in time
her brilliant blue eyes
glow back at me
from years ago.

Her deck was illuminated
in the warm afternoon sunlight.
Eucalyptus and palm trees glow in the background.
She sat with a book and coffee in hand
surrounded by violet and magenta flowers
wearing a pink floral top and white Keds.

This was before.

Before,
I watched light
dance across her floor
as life
slipped
away.

I watched powerless
not knowing
that love can not keep someone alive.
Tightly I still hold onto pieces of her
trying
to ignore
shards of loss inside.

She comes to me
by starlight.
I believe she will help me
find my future.
She always wanted
what was best for me.
Even from beyond the grave.

 

My grandma Gertie died in August 2006 she was 92, and one of my best friends. She still comes to me in dreams often. She taught me to love without walls, to sing along to Broadway musicals no matter who was in the room. She taught me to believe in myself and the magic that life leads us where we are supposed to go.

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.