There is a Jewish saying to the effect that "the generations get worse over time," meaning that people were better/holier in the olden days.
I don't know if that is true - having watched the episode on Game of Thrones last night where they threw a young maiden to the dogs, literally - but they did have more perspective. For sure they had a more holistic view of things than we do today.
In that sense, my late grandmother, Muriel Garfinkel (may she rest in peace) is my "guiding angel." Whenever I have a question, I imagine her giving me advice in that smart, loving way she did.
- "Dossy baby," she would say, "remember that a girl always needs to hang out a shingle." -- by this she meant that all women should know how to be financially self-supporting.
- "Dossy baby, let me tell you, don't be a schmuck." -- by this she meant, don't let a man walk all over you.
- "Dossy baby, remember that I love you." -- by this she meant that no matter how depressed, discouraged or down on my luck I was, she would always be with me in spirit.
Grandma was a "Miss Subways" 1948, just absolutely gorgeous. She was as feminist as could be, too -- raised six kids in a playpen, guarded only by a dog named Butch, the legend goes -- and at the same time equally devoted to my grandfather and the family.
Grandma was a real-life Rosie the Riveter.
When she got too old to do anything else, Grandma would lay with my Grandpa in bed under the covers and watch Days of Our Lives at 1:00 pm weekdays.
On the Jewish holidays we'd visit them, in their little house in the mountains. And I remember we would go to their room precisely at 12:55. "And so are the days of our lives." (My father wasn't supposed to know...we were breaking with religion.)
It may not seem possible to fit fifteen people in two double-sized beds with elderly people inhabiting them, but we did it.
I loved my Grandma so much it makes me cry to remember how much I loved her. She was an astounding human being. I remember her strength, her goodness, her loyalty, her resourcefulness, her cheerfulness, and her intense love for the children, the grandchildren, cousins, friends, and strangers.
Her table was open to anybody and the only person she couldn't tolerate was the one who treated others badly, particularly her girls, meaning my mother and her sisters. She could not stand people who "put on airs," either.
In 1997 after several years of research I wrote my dissertation about soap opera viewing. It was supposedly an academic treatise. But in reality it was a tribute to her.
One time some guy made a pass at her. She was stunningly beautiful and she sold real estate in the country. That alone was a recipe for trouble, but what can I tell you, they needed the money and there were not a lot of jobs in the woods.
"Don't you dare get fresh with me," she told that guy. "My husband has a shotgun."
If you would call up Grandma she and Grandpa would pick up the phone at once.
Often Grandpa wouldn't even announce himself, but still, he was there.
"What is it?" they'd say in unison, and I would have to laugh. They didn't even realize it was funny.
My mother and her sister grew up imbibing Grandma's values. And each of them raised me in accordance with her love.
From my mother - a nurse - I learned to look at sex objectively. It is a bodily function and need like any other, very normal for both girls and boys.
My mother loved me into being a writer, too. She told me always to say what's on my mind, and just to be careful about things that need be private versus public.
My aunt lived with me and took care of me when my mother went to work. I used to crawl up into her bed, she tells me, and she would hold me when I cried.
It was my aunt who taught me that being female meant dressing as an actual woman. That makeup, hair and clothing were essential to a woman's self-esteem, and that it was okay to celebrate beauty and to enjoy being beautiful in the world.
The women in my family don't call themselves "feminists." But their attitudes toward sex are extremely enlightened.
We ought to take great joy in being female. There is no contradiction between sex, love, beauty and spirituality. We ought not get caught up in academic debates about "a woman's role."
As Grandma would have said: "Dossy baby, just be normal."
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo: "NYC Transit Museum Miss Subways" by Wcnghj at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Rosie the Riveter Poster: "We Can Do It!" by J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee - From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, retrieved from the website of the Virginia Historical Society.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.