Both of my biological grandmothers were named Helen. It was really funny, because as a small child I called one of them (my mother's mother) "Grandma" and the other (my father's mother) "Grandma Helen," as if her "Helen" was more "Helen" than the other.
While as different as two women could possibly be, both shared certain traits that shaped my life and influenced me, that taught me important life lessons and brought me to the point at which I find myself today: a grown, aging woman with intact self-esteem and an abiding love for authenticity, community outreach, mentoring younger women, and family.
Both of my grandmothers were New York based, ridiculously well-read, art and music loving, witty conversationalists who supported their families emotionally as best as they could. They both smoked cigarettes and had profound interest in the world around them. My mother's mother read the New York Times daily from cover to cover and completed the crossword with only minimal input from my grandfather. My father's mother listened to jazz and dyed her hair blonde; she wore rose perfume and never looked unkempt or messy. Her nails were always perfectly done and she took me to Broadway shows, gave me massages when I slept over, and slipped me watermelon candy in the dark of the movies.
My mother's mother was a hard drinking, Julia Child-cooking woman, full of mystery and intensity.
I spent long days with her as a child, during illnesses or when my mother needed to be elsewhere, playing card games, learning to knit and crochet, talking about silly things, and smelling enormous roasts cooking in the oven.
Without the influence of my Helens in my life, I doubt very much if I would have been able to face my forties and impending fifties, sixties and seventies with hope and even joy. Both Helens passed away before their seventieth birthdays but they lived in their sixties with laughter and insight in ways that made me happy to be a girl and now, happy to be a grown woman.
They relished my company and taught me so much about independence and relationships.