Monday, October 18, 2010

My Great-grandmother

I blogged before about how important it is for a woman to be able to look back on the women in her family who came before her and be proud of their strength and achievements. As a product of 4 generations of powerful, highly educated women with brilliant careers, I know how invaluable their successes are for my career and personal life.

My great-grandmother on my father's side was called Mary. She was born in a shtetl and was one of eight children in her family. The revolutions of 1917 gave her the kind of opportunities that as a woman, and a Jewish woman at that,she could have never enjoyed in the Russian Empire. She received an amazing education and rose to the heights of her profession. I can't be more specific about what she did because, as I understand (and let my family members who read the blog correct me if I'm wrong), she worked in the defense industry and most of what she did was classified.

Grandma Mary was a very authoritative, powerful woman. I only remember her as somebody who loved me to bits and pieces, so it's hard for me to imagine her as this imposing figure everybody feared and respected. The family legend says that she left her first husband because she couldn't accept that he had the temerity to have opinions of his own. The content of the opinions was irrelevant. It was the very fact that he dared have them that annoyed her.

Grandma was a fiercely loyal follower of the Communist Party, which is not surprising because she remembered the pariah status of Jews in the Russian Empire. She also couldn't have failed to realize that, as a woman, she would have had no chance at any kind of a career if the 1917 revolutions hadn't taken place. When perestroika came, grandma reacted as one of those faulknerian heroines I'm sure she never read about: she refused to accept it. She wouldn't turn on the television or the radio, she refused to read newspapers or acknowledge any of the new realities. In the last years of her life, she escaped in her mind to a time that she could still understand and be comfortable with.


Anonymous said...

In fact, she was a construction engineer and took part in designing power stations, some of them world's largest, in various areas of the Soviet Union.

Michael Blekhman,
Mary's grandson

el said...

Have you seen the movie "Good Bye, Lenin"? I reviewed it

The film is on YouTube :