Of all the folks in my bio-family, my Grandma Dottie (Dad’s mum) and I are the only ones with black hair. On top of that, we have an uncanny facial resemblance and an equally spooky penchant for beach living, coffee, and writing long, pissed-off letters. Her mother passed away in childbirth in 1930 when she was 13, a tragedy that continues to reverberate to this day. With her father’s subsequent remarriage a few months later, she went to live with her own Grandmother and was forced to become exceptionally independent at quite a young age. Part of that independence was a special license to drive a car at the age of 14. The photo here is of her at age 15 at her graduation with her car, a gift from her father.
Whenever I tear down the California freeways, stomping on it at 95, I think of her, driving fearlessly through the canyons from Beverly Hills to what is now Watts to attend school. During WWII, her husband enlisted and ended up on ship in the South Pacific while she kept the home fires burning. A true Rosie the Riveter, she lapped pistons onto planes until 2am, after which she and her mates would go bowling to wind down. I love the idea of my 26-year-old grandmother driving through 1940s Los Angeles in the dead of night, illuminated by streetlights, pulling into a bowling alley parking lot at 3am.
One night when she was on this shift, she got a phone call from her husband (whose location had remained undisclosed), telling her he was up in the Bay Area getting ready to ship out probably the next morning and could she please come now. She began to weep because she didn’t know if she’d ever see him again and she didn’t have enough gas ration coupons to make the trip. Her coworkers rallied, pooled together their coupons, and gave her enough to go. She ran home, got the baby (my Dad), and drove through the black of night from Los Angeles all the way up the vast emptiness of early 1940s California to the Bay. 400 miles. No cell phone. No callboxes. No nothing. Just her faith and an abiding sense of trust that it would be all right.
“What was like for you, that night?” I asked her recently, “Did the 5 even exist then? Weren’t you scared?”
She paused and said, “You know, you just didn’t think about it. When you want something so badly, you’re so focused and you just do it, you make it happen, and I did.”
So I think of her, and that night, whenever I traverse the now-populated corridors of the 101 and the 5, holding her faith and trust close to my own heart and hoping that I can be just as brave, just as resolute, and that strong in faith that it will be all right.