My grandmother the flapper.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Queenie, was a flapper.

She was also a math teacher, and a gorgeous seamstress, and a woman who would not wear pants unless it was about 20 degrees below hell having frozen over. She took forever to finish her dinner — which, if she made it, was probably really good, even though she always maintained that when she got married, she could have burnt water trying to boil it. She married my Grandpa, the only one I ever knew, a man quiet and smart and slyly funny who radiated his love for us and let our dachshund settle herself onto his long, lanky thighs, her nose hanging just over his knees. Grandpa was known for not being willing to actually argue with Queenie, who was a rather firey, opinionated sort, but the story goes that when he came to collect her belongings in advance of their wedding and saw how many shoes she owned, he considered calling the wedding off.

I wonder if the shoe thing and the flapper thing were related.

About a month ago, Boing Boing posted something about the rise of the flapper, and the woman pictured at the top of the post looks so much like my Queenie that I was just flooded with missing for her. I clicked through to the mental floss post that served as Boing Boing’s source, suddenly understanding that I had never asked my grandmother about her youth and what it had meant to be a smart, opinionated, professional woman early in the 20th century, and hoping — as I so often do — to find her or some piece of her in the writing of other people.

I don’t think I did, not really, because ultimately, Queenie was no iconoclast, and she surely wasn’t sexually liberated (as, apparently, many of the flappers were).

But I do like to think of her as part of continuum of women moving themselves and their daughters (and their sons) forward. I like to think of her meeting my own children, and loving their math geekiness, and my daughter’s love of skirts and dresses. She would argue with them about stuff that they were bullheaded about, and get all bullheaded herself, but they would have known that she respected them and their minds, no matter their age. And she would have loved their independence, even as she bristled at it too. She used to call me her Little Rebel, and it always felt like the best compliment she had ever given anyone.

I miss them — Queenie, and Grandpa, and Schatzi (the dachshund), too. I hope they have a good place to dance, and nice comfy chairs to rest in after, wherever they are. And I hope that I someday have grandchildren to love as well and as truly as they loved us.


  1. Lise

     /  October 19, 2009

    Come to think of it, Queenie’s parents sent all their kids – two girls and two boys – to college. Grandpa Carl was a steelworker and Grandma Emily a housewife. That’s something iconoclastic in the 1920s. And Queenie and Grandpa won a prize for their dancing! I wish I could’ve seen them. I wish they’d lived long enough for me to get smart enough to know that I should’ve asked them a lot more questions, and sat still and listened while they talked. I miss them all, too.

  2. This sounds like such a great story, and a warning to everyone to beg every last bit of family history out of our relatives before they are gone and we can only wonder.

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