The redwings left today

[Credit:  Alan D. Wilson,]
[Credit: Alan D. Wilson]
My grandmother, Norma Francis, died early yesterday morning. Her health had been in rapid decline for the last few weeks, so we were expecting the worst, but there’s still no shaking the loss. That entire generation of family is vanishing — all four of my grandparents and many of their siblings.

We called her Grammy, though I think she disliked that nickname; she signed cards and letters as “Gram”. She was a bird- and book-lover, surrounding her house with bird feeders and lining her rooms with bookshelves. She loved to travel when she could manage it, and to try new foods. I come by my coffee addiction legitimately: she seemed to always have a pot of coffee on and a mug near to hand. (She did, however, sometimes drink cold coffee, something I’ve never been able to stand.)

I feel a little odd writing this because Grammy was always an unsentimental person. She left her body for medical research; once when I visited her, she told me she had never felt the need to visit my grandfather’s grave because it wasn’t really him there. Her last birthday card to me (there’s a sad phrase) was cheerfully grouchy about the social need to celebrate getting older.

Because she was fairly unsentimental, I don’t know if she had any real regrets. I do feel there were many might-have-beens, precluded opportunities because of when and where she was born. She never had the chance to go to college (which was also true for my grandfather), but in another life with other opportunities she might have been an ornithologist, a paleontologist, a literature professor, an anthropologist, anything. She certainly thought education was important and celebrated the educational achievements of her children and grandchildren.

My grandmothers both are a major reason I am a strong supporter of women in science, because they both were of a generation when it was much harder to get an education, period. I don’t know if Grammy would have been a scientist had the opportunity been there, but the key word in that thought is opportunity. It’s why I feel passionately about the men (usually) who say that women aren’t cut out for science, or that education should be merely preparation for working in a job proscribed by the whims of a sexist, racist, and classist society. Not everyone is born to be a scientist, but everyone should have the chance to choose science.

Though in most ways the song is totally wrong for my grandmother, this tribute from Greg Brown to his own grandmother still feels … appropriate, especially as it involves birds.


For this and other reasons, I’m taking an indefinite hiatus from social media. I’m hoping by removing the distraction of being involved in the day-to-day discussions and arguments (people are still defaming my colleagues who reported on a Nobel laureate’s sexist comments from weeks ago), I can get some productive writing done — along with some needed family time and mourning.

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