|Learn more about this amazing spirit at her website: http://www.andreesingerthompson.com/|
I never grew up with my grandparents. A byproduct of being a first generation Canadian, I guess. They were left behind, on the Tropical Island my parents parted ways with for the industrial urban American jungle.
There I was born in a high-rise apartment in downtown Toronto. In a Jewish hospital nonetheless. And I was raised by my parents as best as they knew how. Moral, righteous loving beings they were.
Taste of liberty came late in life. In my early twenties I’d journey out to the west coast. Not knowing then that it was where most Americans gravitated towards as they fleeted from conformity to liberty.
As a wanderer-vagabond-traveler, life was light at first. But the dark side of it all was there as well. Kids from troubled-broken-homes hitting the road in search of joy or peace.
And it was on one of those journeys you can say that I found Andree. An elderly half-Jew who’d be the closest experience I’d ever have to a Grandmother daunting over me. She’d set meals in front of me and never left me hungry.
She lived in Berkeley. She'd moved in during the 60's, as the land near her home was excavated and North Berkeley Bart station was born. Her home held a large expansive Garden. Chickens laid eggs out there amidst the vegetation. “Help yourself to the Garden” she’d tell me. And I would. Making myself garden salads whenever she disappeared off on one of her many social engagements.
She was an active woman. A social activist to be specific. She taught an Eco-Art class at Laney College and held happy hours at her kitchen table every evening. Intellectual discussions about climate change and environmental destruction ensued. Her house was always brimming with life and activity.
She'd invite me to stay for awhile up the stairs and into her attic turned bedroom. Books alongside the walls, old family pictures and her personal office. She’d show me to the back to a small room that would be mine for the days that I’d stay. Sun light streamed in through the windows up on the ceiling. I’d fall in love with the space immediately and count my blessings that she’d offered for me to stay.
As someone who strongly believes that the revolution for change must begin at home, her life unraveled before me like the very inspiration and light I needed. It was quite evident from the moment I met her that I was destined to cross paths with her. Her Garage converted into an art-studio where she made the plates and cups we ate and drank from. Her house covered in hand-crafted art. A powerful example of how one person, one home can make a small shift in reality.
I’d celebrate Rosh Hashana with her. We’d light the candles and dip apples in honey. Her son would come over and enthrall us over dinner with humor. She’d hug me, as we prepared dinner, “thank you for helping me”. And I’d be overwhelmed. It was rare that elders hugged me. It was rare that I was commended.
I didn’t know how to show her I loved her. She’d walk past me and my heart would brim. I’d want to stand and hug her, rub my hand against her soft skin. But I had just met her. So I’d hold it all back. Holding the love and admiration within me.
It was interesting that my first extended time with a Grandmother that she’d be a Jew. I always joked that I was partially Jewish. Growing up in upper-middle class neighborhoods where Jews predominated.
“So you were Rich” she’d inquire. I didn’t know how to answer the question. The economic state of my family had fluctuated from poor, to rich, to middle class all in one life-time. To explain my economic status was complex. I felt affiliated to every economic bracket that humans adhered to. And I’d have to branch into history to truly explain it all.
Nevertheless, I could have simply have said that though I’d grown up amidst wealthy Jews that it didn’t mean I was always as wealthy. Instead I kept cutting up the egg-plant placed before me and continued preparing dinner.
How to explain why I lived with bare minimal simplicity. What I was doing on the road this time around, I didn’t truly know. I’d left a burden of pain and confusion in South Asia. Another story I’m still waiting to write.
But she’d catch me. Catch me as I wandered through hunched over from regret. She’d catch me the way Grandmothers do. And she’d make it clear that she’d tasted pain as well. But she hadn’t let it hold her back. It had turned her into a woman with a mission. A woman that was aware of the struggles of the Earth. And was committed to making a difference.
In the little ways of course, extinct animals painted on her car. “Stop Bitchin’ and start a revolution” written clearly on one of those weekend T-Shirts she wore. Inviting me to the class she taught at Laney College on Eco-Art. And by giving a hand to whoever seemed to be in need. By being there for me, when I needed her the most.
Perhaps I have not been blessed to truly live and be with my genetic grandparents, but I surely believe I have found a Grandmother in her. And oh how very grateful I am that it is a Grandmother with a spirit for life, positive change and human evolution.