Divorce is a Dirty Word

Oh, my, while my grandmother is away, we are getting such unbelievable gramma guest blogs. This one heralds all the way from Rome, Italy where one of my very very best friends in the whole world, Elizabeth Farren, writes fiction and lives with her fabulous husband, Nico. I have actually met Lizzy’s grandma, and she is the picture of grace and beauty and, underneath that very poised exterior, as you will see, an incredible amount of va va voooooom.  I am completely inspired, and when I grow up, I want to be Lizzy’s gramma pretty please. Doesn’t she just give you hope for the future? Absolutely anything can happen, even if your husband is running around with the entire neighborhood:

My Grandmother, the War Bride

No, you cannot go to medical school, her parents said, you’re a woman. We don’t have the money.

My grandmother went into medical technology instead, to study blood and bacteria, hematology, microbiology, lab science. She sat in classes full of men at Temple University in Philadelphia, until the war broke out and her class of two-hundred became seven: Pearl Harbor.

At eighteen, she became a war-bride. She married a young doctor who spent his war years in the service. Soon she was a mother of three, and just as soon, her husband was sleeping with nurses, wives, neighbors.

Divorce is a dirty word.

She asked for a separation, for what dignity was there for a woman with three young children and a philandering husband—louse of a father. She was not a doctor, but she could open her own medical laboratory, she could earn a living. She walked the snowy streets of Philadelphia with one baby in one arm, another in a stroller, the other running in circles around her knees. She only wanted the best for her children.

Why don’t we move to Florida? her husband suggested. We’ll live on the water, we’ll have a boat, a yard, we can sun bathe all year long. There’s this beautiful new area called Golden Isles. It won’t happen again. I promise.

My grandmother raised her children in a large house on a canal near the ocean. There were palm trees in the backyard and a Boston Whaler parked on a dock behind a swimming pool. My grandmother wore fancy button down dresses and held dinner parties for members of South Florida’s society on her glass dining table. She had become a sixties home-maker while her husband was once again sleeping with the whole neighborhood, with dinner guests, with her best friend. One morning, sitting at the kitchen table, staring out the window at the sun on the water, yachts passing, she decided she’d had enough. She didn’t need this.

Divorce is a dirty word.

She left the marriage with nothing in hand, her children grown, and she moved to a small single-story home in Hollywood Hills. Though she had little in the way of material objects, she was sane. She had a mango and banana tree at the back of the house, as well as a put-put brown VW, which was just large enough to fit all of her grocery bags. She was teaching laboratory science to pay the bills. Later, when her son graduated from Business school, the two considered opening their own school. She spent her life savings—nothing to lose—and they enrolled one student.

Within one year they had 40 students.

Within five years they had a couple hundred.

Within fifteen years they had almost a thousand.

Within thirty years they had eighteen thousand students; her school was now called a University.

When her ex-husband died, she didn’t mourn. Rather, as she turned sixty-five, she began travelling the world. She’s stepped on to six continents, has eaten prairie oysters in Beijing, has visited native populations in Vanuatu, has ridden donkeys across the desert in Jordan, has visited Lenin’s tomb in Moscow, has canoed down streams in the Panamian rainforest, has safaried in South Africa, where she saw elephants, lions, hyenas, giraffes.

I’ve never had a neck, she complains. So in my next life I’m coming back as a giraffe.

She is eighty-six. Next year she’s going to Morocco. She just accepted an honorary PhD from Beijing University, which means that she is now officially a doctor.

At 4:30 a.m., she wakes up, she showers and drives herself to work. She is the first to arrive at school, and so she makes coffee and reads her email.

Recently she’s received a slew of speeding tickets.

Last guy to give me a ticket had braces on, she says. Problem is, he’s right. She shakes her head. It’s terrible. There’s never anyone on the road at that hour, so it’s a lot of work for me to keep my foot off the gas pedal.

Elizabeth Farren was born and raised in NYC. She received her BA from Columbia University and her MFA from Bennington College. She has just completed her first novel, and is presently living in Rome, Italy.

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3 Responses to “Divorce is a Dirty Word”

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