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