Remembering “Gramma” Rachel

Rachel and Clarence Fagalde at my wedding in 1985
Today my step-grandmother would have been 109 years old. Mind-boggling. My father’s mother, Clara, died when I was 2, so I don’t really remember her. I remember Grandma Rachel, who married my grandfather a year or two later. She had been married before, but she never had children. I never asked her why.
Grandma Rachel was the one who encouraged me as a fledgling writer. She gave me countless books, all inscribed to “My dear little Susie” from “Gramma” Rachel. She always put the “Gramma” in quotes, as if she felt she didn’t deserve the title. But she did. She was as much a grandmother as any woman ever was. She showered me, my brother, and my five cousins with love, support and gifts until the day she died. Longer, in fact. A cassette tape she sent me arrived a few days after cancer took her away in 1991.
Now I don’t think Grandma Rachel was much good with babies. I can’t picture her changing a diaper. She was a terrible cook, her housekeeping was iffy, and the grownups tended to roll their eyes at the way she talked. But we kids didn’t care about any of that. She cared about us. She wanted to know about our friends, our schoolwork, and the boys we had crushes on. She wanted to see what we had made and was always eager to read what I had written. She was never too busy doing grownup things to spend time with us.
Perhaps not having children freed her to do these things, or maybe that’s just how she was. I don’t know if she ever grieved her lack of children, or if she quietly celebrated her childfree life. Perhaps with two stepsons, seven grandchildren, and a nephew and three nieces whom she adored, she didn’t have time to think about it.
Perhaps she had enough to deal with in marrying Clarence Fagalde. For most of his life, he worked as foreman of the Dorrance ranch in San Jose, California. When they married, Rachel moved to the ranch, where life revolved around the prune and cherry crops. The work never ended. When Clarence retired, they moved to a small house at Seacliff Beach, a little ways south of Santa Cruz. Grandpa fished and puttered around the yard, tending his “Garden of Eden,” while Rachel painted, read, and wrote poetry and copious letters to everyone, including me. I treasure those letters, and I treasure the memories of our many visits.
Not every step-family works as well as Grandma Rachel’s did. We’ve all heard horror stories about kids who hate the new wife, battles with the ex, and husbands who favor the kids over the wife. My own situation was far less amiable. But Rachel made it work, and so can we.
On this, her 109th birthday, let her be a reminder that we can have happy lives even if we never give birth.

I Didn’t Know How

My stepdaughter Gretchen took offense at recent postings referring to her. She was hurt that I didn’t use her name, although I was simply trying to protect her from embarrassment. Then she went on a rant about how I wasn’t involved enough with her and her children, especially when the kids were young. She talked about how her own mother took the kids home with her for long periods and spent lots of time with them. When I explained that her father was an obstacle to me being a hands-on mom/grandma, that her mother had first dibs, and that the kids were often with their own father, she said I could have worked around all that. As I pondered this, my own feelings greatly hurt, I began to realize that perhaps I didn’t become one of those huggy grandma types because I didn’t know how to interact with kids. Not only have I never had my own, but I haven’t had much opportunity to be around children. Mine has always been an all-adult life. Dogs, I get. Children, not so much. So if I didn’t charge in and create a close relationship, I’m sorry. I thought I did pretty well, considering. I do know this; parenting is tough, and step-parenting is even harder.
One of my missions in this blog and my other writing is to make people understand that women who don’t have children miss a lot in life, including learning how to take care of them. Sorry, Gretchen.

***
A while back, I talked about men’s views of childlessness. I just finished reading a book called Nobody’s Father: Life Without Kids, an anthology edited by Canadians Lynne Van Luven and Bruce Gillespie. It’s a good book. I can recommend it, although I’m not sure it gets to the heart of why so many men don’t want to have children. Among those writing here, quite a few are gay or were in marriages where they couldn’t conceive or carry a baby to term. Only a few say they just didn’t want to have kids. Men don’t seem to talk about these things with the same emotion that women do. The general view is, “I didn’t have kids because of X. Next subject.”

There, now I have probably offended Gretchen and any men that might be reading this blog.