I did not know my paternal grandmother well, but my mother’s mom was a powerful presence in my life. Her name was Adelaide Sproul and she lived in Massachusetts, in Cambridge and in Watertown. She was an incredibly strong woman with great vital force. She outlived two husbands and bravely dealt with serious heart problems of my uncle, who at young age suffered a heart attack and two strokes. She had a fiercely independent spirit and was not only the pillar and matriarch of our family but remained involved in politics and environmental action groups until she was in her eighties.
Adelaide was an artist, writer, and art teacher, but from my perspective, teaching was her real gift and calling. It might have sometimes looked like she was hard on people, but she expected a lot from herself and no less from the others. I always felt that she encouraged the best in me and believed in me. She wasn’t overtly affectionate and was not one to say “I love you,” but I was always sure of her support. For her, actions mattered more than words. Both my parents were teachers and finances were tight so when I was accepted to the Boston Conservatory of Music, she paid my tuition. I remember how terrified I was when I decided to tell her about my plan to leave the school before graduating. At that moment in my life I felt that I had learned everything I could in that environment and wanted to move to New York to pursue my dream of becoming a professional dancer. However, because my grandmother paid for my school, I also felt like this decision needed her approval. To my greatest relief, she supported my choice. I think that, being an excellent teacher, what she cared about most was the process of personal growth and the happiness it brings and wanted to inspire that in me.
When I started my own family, I felt fortunate to have the opportunity for my kids to get to know their great grandmother. Visits with her would usually involve drawing or collage or some sort of art project as well as tea and usually some yummy cookies. There would be conversation about an art show, Trees for Watertown, her newfound love of yoga or her Peace Action group. Always the teacher, she found ways to connect with and inspire us all.
When she was in her 80s, Adelaide developed Dementia, despite that she continued to create art, drawing every day until she passed at the age of 95.