Four are by blood and marriage, as a result of complicated blended families on both sides. The other five are the Book Group Grandmothers.
I am the youngest in my book group by easily 15 years. I am the only woman whose children are not grown. This group has been meeting for 16 years now, 14 of them with me. Together we have experienced births and deaths of children, new marriages, divorces, heart surgeries, cancer diagnoses and treatment, transitions into new careers, retirement, grandparenthood and stay-at-home-motherhood. We have attended funerals, birthday parties, weddings, movies, choir performances, blessing ceremonies and baby showers together.
Each month we gather around a table in one of our kitchens, the selected book read or partially read or not yet even cracked open, to eat together and to talk.
We do read in our book group, and are discriminating about our picks, but we are laughingly lax at discussing them at our meetings. We regularly joke that we are only in it for the good food and the wine. Except I don’t think that’s why we are in it at all. I think we are in it for the community and because we each respect and admire each other so much.
One of our members was married to an ambassador and lived for a time in Hong Kong and in Ethiopia. Another grew up on a farm in the midwest and taught high-school English before going back to school to study law after her daughters were in grade school. Three of our members met in that law program, all of them in their forties. Three others have sung together in the choir of our local community college for many years. One taught herself Italian in her 60s and sits on the board of the local Arboretum. One was a professional fund-raiser before she retired, five were teachers, three are lawyers and at least three have started their own businesses. All are well-traveled, well-read, thoughtful and articulate.
We read books about war and love, heartbreak and family bonds or family discord. Each book is a catalyst for our own stories shared and woven around the table. We argue gently, look again from each other’s perspectives, tell the parts we loved best or that cut deepest from the book and from our own lives. We tell the story we wish had been told and honor the work of laying down words on a page.
When Bean was just a few weeks old, I was desperate to get out of my house but not yet willing to leave her behind, so I brought her with me to book group. I handed her off to eagerly waiting arms to my left as I dug in to a meal made even more delicious by breastfeeding hunger. After a moment, I sat back and watched her being passed around the table. For the first time it occurred to me that each of these women, all so familiar to me as vital, powerful, curious, and confident individuals, was also a grandmother.
Until that moment, I had a mental image of a grandmother as someone who lived a small, quiet life. Who bakes cookies by the plateful, pushes photos of her babies on strangers, and smiles benignly while watching grandchildren run through her yard. I had an image of grandmothers being somehow of the past, like my remaining living grandmother who always seemed bewildered by the modern world. I had missed the fact that all grandmothers have, in fact, lived whole lives. That they have stories and wisdom and life within them.
These grandmothers, who I sit down to eat with, listen to and learn from each and every month have lived, and still live, big and vital lives. Not all grandmothers have been passed up by time and technology and some, many, are still vitally engaged and have so much to give and teach.
Bean no longer comes with me to book group most months, as we normally gather after her bedtime. But last month, we met instead on a Saturday morning for our annual “dressing the goddess” party. Instead of leaving her home with her dad, I decided to bring her along.
“Bean,” I said, “Today we get to go see the Grandmas!”
And although she is now long and wiggly and hard to hold, she was picked up and lifted high by women I am proud to share her with, proud to know, proud to learn from.