Photo Copyright J. A.S.
My Oma G…she always believed in me, even when she didn’t understand me. While she was soft spoken, politely considered in her thoughts and actions, and always gracious, she seemed to take quiet pride in a granddaughter who was just the opposite.
In my early years, I would receive the etiquette books of ‘Emily Post’ as birthday gifts from Oma. She had lived in a world that accepted and embraced women of manner and good form. What a surprise for her to receive a granddaughter who challenged authority and rules, but still managed to use the correct fork when eating her salad. While I always respected her guidance and advice with manners, I never quite understood her constant ability to suppress her own beliefs or ideas for the sake of gentility.
I can still hear Oma saying, “Darling, you mustn’t be too vocal with your political beliefs or opinions.” All the while, I sensed an underlying wistfulness on her part. If she had lived in my generation she may have relished in challenging others in intellectual debate. She was an educated and traveled woman, but some how believed in Mrs. Post’s advice to, “Try to do and say those things only which will be agreeable to others…and…never let amiable discussion turn into contradiction or argument.”
When she wanted a new dress or piece of jewelry, she gently slipped a magazine clip underneath my grandfather’s place setting at the dining table. When I wanted something, I just announced it, without grace or a hidden agenda. Clearly, Oma had the right technique, as she managed to collect the most desirable designer wardrobe ever, and all I have in my closet is a hodge podge of mixed clothing; ranging from ex-hippie tye dyes, to semi-converted city girl wares.
When I first told Oma that I had decided to focus on social work in college, she presented me with her supportive smile, but eyes filled with fear. In her mind, and lack of experience, she imagined social workers as those people who handed out welfare checks; only seeing the darker sides of life. Unpleasantness, in any way, just did not fit in with Oma or Mrs. Post’s ideals.
I am proud to say, that through my persistence and Oma’s willingness to always support, she became the greatest advocate of my career. She came to visit me in NYC in 1994 and met some of the homebound clients I worked with. She became fascinated, in the same way I had, with my client’s rich and varied stories. She understood my curiosity and respect for witnessing human survival, courage, resilience, and integrity, even in the most difficult circumstances. Most of the clients’ I worked with in NYC were survivors, eccentrics, immigrants and loners, most of whom were also isolated, prideful and forgotten. Oma recognized the incredible life gifts and lessons that were exchanged on both sides. Although in her early 80’s, she thanked me for opening new doors of perspective, compassion, and insight.
After Oma’s visit to NYC, our relationship and connection went to deeper, unspoken levels. Two women, raised in different generations, but bound together by reverence and a deep understanding of the other’s life goals and purposes. We acknowledged and accepted one another and reveled in the completeness of that.
While I aimed to challenge Oma’s perspective and views on the disenfranchised, I never really needed to. Sometimes, someone just needs to experience and see things they never have before. I believe that when one chooses to step outside of their safe and sheltered environment, they are able to receive irreplaceable experiences…not always pleasing to the mind, but always gateways to new knowledge.