As you may remember from last week, I've been on vacation in Hilton Head. And I should note that I'm tan. Very tan. Yay!
I'm home now, and just in time, as the island is currently under mandatory evacuation due to Hurricane Hanna. (I hope my cousin Natalie left last night after work rather than get stuck in potentially up to 8 hours of standstill traffic leaving the island...trust me, it sucks...been there, done that.)
Anyway, I got to spend some quality time with the relatives on my mom's side this past week (I've got some of them in the picture at the top of the post...from left to right: my grandmother; my cousin Lauren, who is studying for the MCATs at the moment because she takes them a week from tomorrow; me; my Aunt Bobbie). It's always a treat to see them, especially my grandmother.
My grandmother, who we call Gaga, will be 90 in May. She was born in NYC, and grew up in Spanish Harlem, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. Gaga was the oldest of 5 children, so when she graduated from high school at age 15 at the height of the Great Depression in 1934, she couldn't afford to attend college, despite her fervent desire to go. So off to work she went, to help her mother and stepfather (her father had passed when she was younger) provide for her younger brothers and sister.
Yes, age 15. At an age when most teens today are going to Homecoming dances and football games, my grandmother was out in the working world and essentially raising a family (albeit her siblings) because her parents worked long, long hours and money was extremely tight. She sacrificed her own teen years so that her siblings teen years would be a little better.
She married my grandfather, her high school sweetheart (a neighborhood boy...son of Puerto Rican immigrants), at age 19. Had she followed her dreams and gone to college straight out of high school (remember, she graduated really young), she would have graduated by then, but that wasn't in the cards.
But she never gave up her dream of pursuing higher education. After raising five children, Gaga started commuting into the City to attend Hunter College when my Uncle Dick was in college, my mom was in high school, my Aunt Cookie and Uncle Peter were in junior high, and my Aunt Bobbie in elementary school. She majored in Spanish and French, and then got her teaching certificate.
So in the 1960s, more than 30 years after she graduated high school and started working, Gaga became a high school Spanish teacher. She retired in the early 80s (I remember going to the Spanish class Christmas party when I was 3 or 4 and getting to take a whack at the pinata), but to this day, continues to help tutor students in Spanish.
My grandma, whose teen years were not conventional by today's standards, taught me the importance of education and achieving your dreams, no matter what the odds. She's my hero.
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