That's my Grandma at 19 on the Oregon Coast circa 1935. That fellow on the right isn't me, it's my Grandpa, whom I never knew. On day, maybe seven years before this picture she saw my Grandfather walking down the halls of her middle school and whispered to her lifelong friend "I'm going to marry that fellow John Hanselman."
And she did. They had three kids, my dad being the baby. Grandpa passed when my dad was 11 and Grandma was left to raise the kids alone, in the 50s and 60s when it wasn't fashionable to be a single mom. It certainly wasn't easy then, and I'm sure it still isn't.
Grandma Jean is the only Grandparent I've really known.
Grandma always apologizes (unnecessarily) for not being "a dainty grandmother type." She always says "I don't bake pies. I'm sorry, I just don't." But she did, and does, call my on my B.S. and tells me her opinion, pretty or not.
Grandma is kind. She's starting to lose her memory, but just the short term. She can tell you all the exquisite details of the Beach Trip in 1935, but can't quite remember if she saw you last week, or the week before. But she is kind.
I know she is kind because sometimes when old folks start to fade away, who they really are comes out. Mean folks get really mean, and bitter folks become cruel. Not Grandma. She's what we call a "straight shooter."
Grandma has always believed in a kindness to all folks of all types. It's hard to understand after reading her father's (my great-grandfather) memoirs of his trip to the U.S. from Scotland. He was an unfortunate racist who essentially landed on the shores of this country as an immigrant, spun on his heals and announced "get out of my country" to whoever followed. Grandma would have none of this.
Grandma was nearly suspended in the 1920s for dancing with a Black kid - someone she was apparently quite taken with at the time - and sent to the Principal's Office. Grandma was a beard (female friend) for a Gay man in a lifelong committed relationship at company parties so he could keep his job in the 1950s and 60s. Grandma is neither liberal nor conservative, revolutionary nor reactionary, she just has what she terms "Common Sense and Common Courtesy." While visiting some family friends in Georgia, as I understand it, someone used the N-word over dinner, and Grandma quietly got up, left, and hasn't spoken to them since.
Grandma has welcomed my wife and her family into her family with grace and understanding without a word about color or culture She dotes on her great-grand-children and today, on her birthday, Grandma Jean met her latest great-grand-child, Isabel Jean.
Grandma was born in Portland, traveled the world in her later years with her eldest sister working as her sister's nurse, and returned to Portland where she is the benevolent matriarch over a brood of many grandkids and enough Great-Grand-Children to fill two hands. She is worldly and local, thoughtful and accessible, kind and irreverent.
And we aspire to be more like her. Happy 91st Birthday Grandma Jean Hanselman. Here's to many more while, as you say, Grandma, "I'm still having fun."
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.