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My Grandparents Thought They Were Leaving Us a Better World

I keep thinking of my maternal grandmother. She graduated from Wellesley in 1936, as did my paternal grandmother. Two Jewish women went to elite women’s colleges in the 1930s, my mom following in 1964. Both my aunts went there too. The first woman in my immediate family not to go to Wellesley, I broke the line. The world is different now, I thought. The punchline is: I went to Brandeis instead.

Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley and because of that — and because of the photos of her shaking hands with my mother‚ she always felt a bit like family. Over the past year I have fluctuated between thinking her — a woman— running for office as a major party candidate, was amazing and the natural order of things. I wondered what my grandmother, who, after graduating Wellesley went to law school so that she could talk to my grandfather, a lawyer, would think. On the day her husband was sworn in as a justice on the Supreme Court of Maine, she told him that he still needed to take out the garbage. Would she be thunderstruck, or incredulous that it had taken this long?

It seems so long ago now — already — that I marched my nearly four-year-old to P.S. 32 in Brooklyn to vote for the first woman president, tears in my righteous eyes. Maybe my grandmother would say. “All my years of living bring perspective and history starts over and over and over, all the time.”

Or perhaps she would be as crushed as I am. As devastated that I had not protected my child but had told him the alternative was a monster who hated all kinds of people we love and would undo important laws. I admit I still don’t care enough about the voices I had not been hearing. In my mind, still, anyone who could put aside Trump’s hate mongering, fear, propaganda and sheer lack of knowledge is not worth listening to. The vote sanctioned hate, all around the world.

When I heard Hillary’s last speech at the Children’s Defense Fund, imagining her own mother, who had been abused, riding alone on a train toward her unknown future, and how Hillary wished she could reassure that little girl that she would have a daughter who would achieve all that Hillary has achieved, it undoes me. The way the my grandmother’s death undid me. She was my tie to the past. And Hillary was our future, our good witch. That died too.

Children riding a train all alone. Did Clinton mean to give us this image of all the people who will be sent away?

I imagine my grandmothers receiving their diplomas from a college we need now more than ever, the two of them looking out at their futures as they listened to commencement speakers urging them to make happy homes. What did they imagine? And my mother?

And then, suddenly, I remember my grandfather presiding over his jury. His wife may have told him to take out the trash that morning, but this afternoon? It’s 1993 and he’s the presiding justice who ruled against guns being allowed in Portland, Maine, housing projects, a setback for the NRA that was still being fought last year.

I know he thought he was leaving us a better more beautiful world.

Because he knew how long these decisions last.

Jennifer Gilmore’s most recent novel is “We Were Never Here.”


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