My grandmother passed away today, she was 92 years old. To say that I have and always will love her, just isn’t enough to express how I have and always will feel about her.
My grandmother, Irene Camille Rivers (nee Dahlen), was a woman of extraordinary talent, strength and temerity. Ever since I was a small girl, I wanted to be like her but I don’t think I will ever quite make muster. My grandmother did not crochet, or sew, or knit, or embroider. My grandmother did not wear “grandma” clothes, in fact she really did like Calvin Klein, and Liz Claibourne. Grandma wasn’t much of the domestic sort, but she was one heck of a fine lady, who pioneered a career in social services, did not believe in glass ceilings, and was a strong proponent of literacy, and social justice. She was into Fair Trade before Fair Trade was cool. Before electronic typewriters she could type 120 wpm without error, after all as a woman she had to be better, stronger, faster; and always in more control.
This very passionate granddaughter, often worried her controlled and “just so” grandmother. Oh, not that she wasn’t proud, but as I was growing up, my “big mouth” concerned my grandmother. It wasn’t that she didn’t want me to be political, or vocal; she wanted me to be effective.
How many granddaughters have the priveledge of activist training from Grandma? When I was in my early career and managing a team of men, I got to call her for advice. When I came home to America to start my life over with two small children, at almost 30, I was completely comfortable with her offering up her old business warddrobe for me to use as my shopping closet. A 30 year old camel hair skirt worked for me as much as it did her: Classy was her middle name.
Well, ok, Camille was her middle name. But, to me Grandma was always a class act.
When I started the CLF and people began to join, Grandma and I giggled together over it. When I explained what I hoped to accomplish with the group, she was thrilled. Even though she didn’t like crafting, she valued all arts and crafts. In fact, she commissioned many crocheted pieces by a wonderfully talented friend of hers, and paid her very well, because she did value such labors.
My grandmother taught me many things, including how to stop, think, then speak. If not for my grandmother, there would be no CLF. After all, she always supported my political acts, even when I was 5 and wrote the Hershey’s company a letter complaining about their rasing the price of candy bars from 20 cents to a quarter! Or when I was seven and wrote my congress person a letter about saving the baby seals in Alaska. Grandma encouraged my passions, while teaching me to hone them. She taught me to search for the best words, not just spew whatever was on top of my tongue at the moment.
That and she taught me to bake cookies and make a mean pie crust and how to wash socks out in the sink.
Irene Camille Dahlen Rivers b. April 9, 1918 – d. May 12, 2010 Forever in my heart.
I still want to be her when I grow up.