A Grandmother’s Story

This week’s stunning triumph for a courageous 80-year-old woman, added to the preposterous maltreatment of a film director whose work set all sorts of records and earned the production company obscene amounts of money, have for some reason reminded me of my grandmother. I haven’t blogged in forever, but I want to acknowledge the debt women of 2024 owe to the brave, often suffering, struggling women who came before us. My mother was one such, a quiet heroine who worked miracles in a life with no support and no privilege, but just now I’m thinking of my grandmother.
Her name was Elizabeth Lucinda Morgan (yes, I borrowed her name as a pseudonym) and she was born, we guess, in 1890. She lied about her age so much we can’t be sure. We called her Lu, at her request, and we have always thought of her as the original San Francisco hippie before there were hippies. She was an artist through and through, against all odds, against societal norms, against the strictures of an abusive marriage and trying to raise two children in the Depression. She was a significant minor painter in the 50s and 60s, in San Francisco and in Taos, New Mexico. As kids, we thought she was weird, though we adored her. As an adult who has also spent my life as an artist, I think she was completely, utterly amazing.
In the early years of my life, I struggled to become the artist I was meant to be, but the obstacles I dealt with pale before the ones she faced. Who would take seriously the ambitions of a girl from Iowa who wanted above all to be a painter? Who would allow her the freedom to leave her marriage, to take her children and build a new life away from the tyrannical rule of a hard-eyed man who thought her ambitions were foolish?
To shorten a long story, my grandmother Lu did become a painter, and a popular teacher of painters. She was celebrated with a showing at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and is remembered in a book about artists of her day. A gallery in Taos sold her paintings, and preserved a number of them for posterity. You can see one of my favorite works of hers below. She had vision, and talent, and discipline—all the things that go into the character of an artist—and along the way she loved her grandchildren and did her best to support them in their own dreams. She used to play the piano for us so we could dance. She used to sit up with us and let us spin our own stories. When our family fell apart, she stepped up in the only way she had, her presence. She had no money, but she had ideas, and they were precious beyond price.
1890. Women were still wearing corsets. Their skirts dragged on the ground, impossible to keep clean. They knew nothing of marriage until they married, and then they were trapped. World War I came, and then the Depression, and then World War II, and my grandmother made art all through. Amazing. Brave. Disciplined.
We women have come a long way, and we’re not going back. Yes, we terrify some people as we choose our own path and refuse to be bullied into the one they prefer. But I know my grandmother would be proud of us, and I am so very proud of her, and of all the strong, defiant women who have come before us.
There are many details of my grandmother’s life we will never know. Some she simply kept to herself. Others are lost in the confusion of the passing years. I am happy to say, however, that her art remains, and it speaks for itself. I hope she finds that enough.

4 thoughts on “A Grandmother’s Story”

  1. A beautiful testament to your grandmother and an amazing woman! My maternal grandmother (born in 1888), was a free spirit who rode a bicycle with a girlfriend from Oakland CA to Yosemite around 1915. They camped out in Yosemite with friends they met there (singles, male & female) then rode their bicycles back to Oakland. She was a crackshot & would perform Annie Oakley roles at local fairs/events. She became a nurse during the Flu Epidemic of 1918 and worked as a nurse on a Blackfoot reservation in Montana/Idaho area.
    I think we all have female ancestors who were/are remarkable but unsung heroes and it’s up to us to share their stories/shine a light on them.
    Just a thought, have you ever thought of writing a book/collection of stories of your grandmother & women like her?

  2. Lovely, lyrical writing, as always. I would love to see this painting beyond the thumbnail. Is there a site where it lives in photo form? jn

  3. Jeanmarie, I love this painting, too. I know it’s too small. May I email you the photo I have? It’s actually a sizeable piece.

  4. Hey, Jenny! What a wonderful story about your grandmother, and what a great character she must have been. Thank you so much for sharing that.
    Maybe one day I will collect a bunch of these stories–we can all contribute!

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