WISDOM Wednesday: Two Grandmothers©

This story written by Malati Marlene Shinazy

If you are raised in a San Franciscan multi-ethnic / multi-cultural family, you automatically get an education in diverse worldviews that most people must study diligently and travel extensively to comprehend.  We had no idea that we were the recipients of a treasure trove of experience that shaped who we would become and continue to be relevant in each of our lives.

Earlier BOBB stories introduced my renaissance grandmother Pauline Josephine Robinet Chaine Kennedy Shinazy, the matriarch of our Gold-Rush pioneer San Francisco clan (see: “A Room of My Own,” “Pauline Shinazy, Artist,” and “Wonder Woman.”)  A consummate seeker of spiritual and political truths, she converted from being a French-Irish Catholic, to the follower of a Guru, to a Socialist, to a Jew.  For my tenth birthday, she gave me a copy of Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet.”  She refused my request to spend junior-year-abroad in France because she didn’t approve of Charles de Gaulle’s politics.  Still, she took me to Temple to tell me she was traveling alone to Israel immediately before, and during, the Six-Day War.  She was a brilliant, wise, artistic, and spiritually worldly woman.

My maternal grandmother, Casimira Erang Chang Pacheco Smith Price White, Nana, was more modest in her worldly pursuits.  Raised on the province of Pangasinan, Philippines, she married an African-American Army Corpsman and immigrated to the U.S. as a young woman.  After several years in Arizona and San Francisco, she found herself living as a struggling single mother of three young children.  She kept her family afloat by learning how to out-negotiate poultry and vegetable vendors in Chinatown, through the goodwill and charity of her neighbors and the local Catholic Church.  Later, she would marry and adore the man I loved as Grand Father (see Grand Father’s Little Girl).

By the time she was a grandmother, Nana was the woman into whose bosom I could cuddle when I felt sad or just needed affection — way into my 20s.  She was also the only woman I consulted as I was considering giving birth to my first child at home, rather than in a hospital.  When I asked what it was like to have a baby, she admitted,

“Oh, I could feel the baby coming, so I tucked my skirt up between my legs and ran home to get on the bed.” 

There was no need to give me verbal permission.  The naturalness of birthing a child I had intuitively suspected was confirmed by her experience.

She also encouraged me not to let my babies cry, “There’s enough time for crying in life.”  And, to breast feed them for as long as I wanted, “It’s mother’s milk.  It’s good milk.”  I received countless disapproving looks during the times I was negotiating with each of my toddlers about ending the nursing ritual.  But Nana supported me with resolve, “They will stop when they’re ready.”  And, they did.

Two grandmothers.  Two distinctly different worlds.  Two uniquely rich contributions to the person I would I become as a spiritual being, a woman and a mother.

photo by Alex E. Proimos and fradaveccs


18 Responses to WISDOM Wednesday: Two Grandmothers©

  1. When our family has a reunion we resemble the United Nations; how lucky to have this global experience from the first days of our lives.
    ~ shinazy

  2. i L-O-V-E this story. such awesome memories come to mind. thank you for sharing.

    • Malati Marlene Shinazy

      Lani- BOBB is a community. Please do share your memories, if you like. Every one of us has had a life worth telling. – ms

  3. I’m envious. Growing up as I did in a segregated big city neighborhood in the 50’s and 60’s, it’s taken a lifetime to overcome the prejudicial, if not outright racist, attitudes instilled practically from birth. I didn’t meet my first enlightened teachers until I went to a Quaker high school in the 60’s. Our children are fortunate to live in a better world regarding racial and cultural differences, although the current political climate reminds us that nothing can be taken for granted. I wish I had met your grandmothers!

    • Malati Marlene Shinazy

      Thanks, Will… Fortunately those high school teachers came into your life. – ms

  4. “What a lucky family!” ~ dbc

  5. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Hi dbc — I am quite thankful for the different gifts each of my
    grandmothers bestowed. – ms

  6. Bob Millavec

    How very fortunate you are to have known two Grandmothers. My parents were so old that my one grandmother passed away at 80+ when I was 1 or 2 and my other grandmother was also so old that there wasn’t much of a relationship possible.

    • Malati Marlene Shinazy

      Bob M. — you are fortunate you will be able to become a step-grandparent and influence the lives ahead of you:-) – ms

  7. You are fortunate on many, many levels and I can tell by your story that you know down deep in your heart, that you cherish it.

    • Malati Marlene Shinazy

      Hi Bobbi – I do cherish those gifts, as I’m sure each BOBB reader does, with their own inspiring grandmothers, aunts, uncles, teacher… – ms

  8. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Readers —

    Please use BOBB Comment boxes to share your own memories, positive or otherwise. We are a community. Each of our stories is important. – ms

  9. A family history that is rich in love and affection is no guarantee for success, but it sure helps. A universal thank you goes out to all loving grandmothers, grandmas, grannies, grams, nanas, abuelas, lolas, gammies, memas, omas, neenees, and babas.

    • and in our family, Pauline Shinazy was called Gigs (there’s a story here).
      ~ shinazy

    • Malati Marlene Shinazy

      Roberto – Thanks in advance for reminding me to reserve a preferred nickname & tell my adult kids — before they have grandchildren 🙂 – ms

  10. “Lovely – thanks for sharing!” ~ RB