Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 8, 2011

Grandma and Emmeline

It’s remarkable to note how a tiny detail from earliest childhood can resonate throughout your entire life, while millions of other impressions fade to nothing.

When I was kid, the intersections of country roads for miles around our little Ohio town were populated with signs from the Chamber of Commerce of a little river village, Morrow, Ohio. Those signs urged us to, “Go to Morrow Today.” Recently, I met a guy from that little town, and had a chance to actually speak those words that — I thought back then — represented just about the cleverest pun imaginable. I think he was too young to know what I was talking about.

Little did I know that at about the same time I was confronting some unfortunate former Morrowite, my brother, who represents a line of industrial equipment manufactured in Italy by a company named Moro, had a chance to recall the very same pun. I don’t have to make stuff like this up. It just flows: it’s just one of those shared memories from fifty years ago, while other memories are lost.

Almost certainly, Mom or Dad first pointed out those signs to us and they probably explained the clever little pun to us. Parents: always there ready to introduce us to a new idea. That’s how we figure the world out, if we’re lucky.

Take today, Shrove Tuesday. Being from a Methodist household, I had a weak grasp of the notion of Shrovetide and Lent (and perhaps still do). But we knew one thing: Shrove Tuesday was really Pancake Tuesday, at least to those of us with an English background, which, thanks to my immigrant grandmother, we had. According to English tradition, households cooked up whatever extra food they had that they would abjure for the next 40 days of Lent, and ate it with pancakes.

Nothing could be better: Pancakes for supper! And, since this was an English tradition, we ate pancakes the English way: not with syrup and butter, but with lemon and sugar, then rolled up around the sugar.¬†Grandma Wharton brought that tradition with her, along with five children, when she landed at Ellis Island in 1922. Lucky is the child who grows up with even a few traditions, and I’m a lucky guy. You can picture Mom, cooking up pancakes for seven (eight, if it was one of the times Grandma W. stayed with us) as we wolfed ’em down. That took a LOT o’ batter.

So, tonight, in their honor — Mom and Grandma both — we had pancakes with lemon and sugar.

I am in awe of that courageous young woman, my grandmother, who took her children and a few belongings aboard a ship nearly 90 years ago; a woman who had grown up in severely straitened circumstances and, when still a child, went into domestic service at a manor house in southern Wales. Here’s a photo I took of that estate when I was there in 1971 (click on photos to enlarge):

Her opportunities were few. When she was born, and for the first 20 years of her life, she could neither vote nor have a place of her own in society. My grandmother, of course, is merely one example of all the women who have been our exemplars and our support. She was about twenty years younger than a fellow Briton, another woman we would do well to remember today, because, in addition to being International Women’s Day, it is also an election day here in the U.S., and we might take a moment to think of Emmeline Pankhurst.

This is a primary election, and there are no national offices or burning national issues at stake, but all of us are voting — ALL of us, men and women alike — thanks indirectly to the efforts of my grandmother’s compatriot, Ms. Pankhurst, who led the fight for women’s suffrage in England, and provided an example for the same battle for enfranchisement here and around the world.

There is a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Gardens, adjacent to the Houses of Parliament in London. Here’s a photo I took, also in 1971. That’s Parliament in the background:

For me, election day — whether an election of national importance or a day of merely local issues — is the sacred day of democracy. I didn’t have to walk endless miles to stand in line in a dusty village or have my ID checked in order to cast my vote. I didn’t risk intimidation by armed goons or threats against my life by some vigilante constabulary intent on forcing a predetermined outcome. The Counselor and I merely walked up to the little folding table at the polling place, identified ourselves verbally, and the volunteer CAREFULLY made certain that I signed on the correct line to assure that my vote was registered. People around the world suffer countless indignities and dangers to exercise the freedom we blithely employed today. That’s a harsh contrast to a recent election here in California, in which we some candidates asked us to vote for them: wealthy clueless idiots who were running for national office while admitting that they had scarcely voted once in their entire lives. They had wealth and unlimited freedom, but had never taken part in the central act that defines a free people.

Any time you vote, remember to thank those volunteers at the polling place. They are part of the backbone of democracy. They are not employed by the government or recruited by the military or subject to Party Rules, nor are they strong-arm thugs there to assure that we vote the RIGHT WAY.

At this moment as I write, young men and women are crouching in some dusty ditch in a desert while the Mirage jets scream overhead. They are hoping to enact a miracle that we live every day: to vote; to govern; to be free. We have that miracle, and let us not fail to rejoice at its recurrence. Other soldiers preceded them, at Concord, Antietam, Ypres and Gallipoli, and wherever else freedom has struggled.

How do we learn what we know: how do we understand a silly pun or grasp the importance of an informed vote? Parents taught us. Children (of whatever age), are you paying attention so that you can teach, too? The lessons can be forgotten, and once lost, they are hard to regain. Ask the kids in the desert outside Tripoli tonight what they would give for the opportunity.

Thanks, Grandma Wharton. Thanks, Emmeline. We’re trying to remember.

© Brad Nixon 2011, 2017

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