This weekend marks two events that pay homage to the power of women. There is Mothers Day on Sunday. Everybody in the restaurant business shares in honoring the wonderful occasion, as do all of us, maybe their biggest day of the year. The other is a more personal remembrance for me, marking the birthday of my grandmother, Ethel Pedersen Brun, of purebred Norwegian stock who married the son of French Hugonot immigrants at a very young age. She was born in 1895 and lived to over 100 until 1996. She bore my mother, her only child, in 1914.
Ethel (we called her “Mimi,” as I shall henceforth in this column) was almost the exact age as Rose, the heroine played by Kate Winslet in the 1997 film, “Titanic,” and also the same age as the daughter, Katrin, played by Barbara Bel Geddes in the classic 1947 film, “I Remember Mama.” That is a far more vivid reference, being as Mimi grew up in San Francisco in a community of Norwegian immigrants, such that it is hard to imagine that she didn’t know the Hanson family that was the subject of Katrin’s serialized memoir that originally went by the title, “Mama’s Bank Account.” It was a best selling book, a play, a movie and, in the 1960s, a TV series.
Mimi’s parents came right off the boat from Norway in the 1880s, moving to Philadelphia, Valley City, North Dakota, and eventually San Francisco, where Mimi met and married Jean Adolph Brun, my elegant granddad with a big nose, poor hearing and gigantic snoring when sleeping. He was the son of a French immigrant family from Limoge that founded a winery in Napa Valley.
Mimi and Bapa moved in right next door to where our family lived in Southern California in the early 1950s in order to provide the moral and monetary support my struggling parents needed to raise three boys.
Mimi’s birthday was one of the special ones we always celebrated together by firing off a few so-called “Happy Pleasantlies,” little paper canisters whose end you pulled to make it pop thin paper streamers out the other. Among famous family stories was one about the time a streamer that lit on my head had caught fire from the candles on the birthday cake and my hair was mildly singed.
While it was doubtful, I suppose, that we all could have made it without the influence of Mimi and Bapa next door, it was much later that Mimi played her biggest role in my life. That was in the first weeks and months after I launched the Falls Church News-Press as a weekly general interest newspaper inside the D.C. beltway. Based on a paltry line of credit from a new local bank that needed to fulfill its mandate to serve its community, the paper was launched by me in the teeth of a recession, no less. I struggled, and so many others were constantly urging me to bail out.
In that time there was only one person in my life who staunchly encouraged me to keep plugging because she knew doing a newspaper was my dream. I spoke by phone with her at least twice a week just to keep her spirits up as she was in her upper 90s. But it was she who returned the favor a million times over by insisting, I mean insisting, that I hang in there and keep my dream alive.
No one, not even my loving mother, was so firm in buoying my spirits. Mom out of love urged me to curb my suffering. Not Mimi. She knew.
On the general theme of the importance of grandmothers, Mother Nature enables women to live far beyond child rearing age because of the wisdom they impart to adult children and grandchildren. “By living longer, women can provide care and wisdom that boosts the physical and emotional health of their descendants,” argues neuropsychiatrist Dilip Jeste in his book, “Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion and What Makes Us Good.”
More proof of the indispensable role for assisters for the survival of our species, ameliorating against the pure, cruel male supremacist procreative and social controlling impulses.