(Huff/Post50 is celebrating Grandparents Day, September 9, with a series of special stories and essays. Elizabeth Higgins Clark is an actress whose television credits include "All My Children" and "Ringer." She has appeared on stage at The Williamstown Theatre Festival and La MaMa e.t.c. Her grandmothers are Doris Boland Behrends and Mary Higgins Clark.)
My grandmothers were born in 1927 and 1930. One grew up in the middle of two brothers in the Bronx. The other was the youngest of three girls in Paramus. Both married in their early twenties and raised their children in Bergen County, New Jersey. Now in their 80's, they both have Irish blue eyes, bad knees and an abiding faith in God. When the woman from the Bronx passes away, it will most likely be announced on the front page of the New York Times and the CNN crawl. When the woman from Paramus dies, it will be noted on page 34 of the Pascack Press.
Widowed with five children at age 36, my paternal grandmother managed to rise before dawn each morning to write at her kitchen table. During those hours before her children woke she wrote a suspense novel called Where are the Children? That novel launched a career that has been nothing short of phenomenal. With more than 40 titles to her credit, she continues to produce work that debuts at the top of best-seller lists. She is the doyenne of mystery writers.
My maternal grandmother left her clerical job at the FBI to take care of her two daughters. While my grandfather continued his career as a Special Agent who worked on espionage and kidnapping cases, my grandmother invited neighborhood children to select a cake from pictures in the Wilton's Cake Decorating Book that she would recreate for each child's birthday. After her daughters were in school, she sold real estate and returned to clerical work at the engineering company Burns & Roe. My grandfather is quick to remind me that it was his wife's income that paid for my parents' wedding.
Over the years, I've accompanied my paternal grandmother on various legs of her annual book tours. We've woken up at the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles, The Savoy in London, the Four Seasons in Dublin and the Plaza Athenee in Paris. She took me to Chicago when she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and to Washington, D.C when she spoke at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall. Last year, I flew home to see her Grand Marshall the 250th Annual New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. I've heard her on "Imus" and recorded her on The View. I've watched as she tirelessly inscribes books and engages people who have waited in long lines and traveled even longer distances to meet her. I've marveled at the warmth and generosity she exudes even when exhausted. She's my Mimi.
On my maternal grandmother's 80th birthday, we went to brunch at the Sarasota Ritz Carlton near her much-beloved retirement condo. As she squinted up at the Vernona room's elegant chandeliers and Grecian urns, she leaned over to me and whispered "Elizabeth, can you believe it? Never in my whole life did I think I'd get to come to the Ritz Carlton." When I was a baby she took care of me so my mother could go out to work. She'd treat me to rides on the carousel at the Paramus Park Mall and take my brother and me to Sears to get our portraits taken. She's fostered my love of movies by purchasing VHS copies of all the Best Picture winners at yard sales. Together we've eaten at her favorite restaurant, Mrs. Chen's, where for $8.20 you are allowed unlimited trips to the buffet. We've watched Gone With the Wind and Waterloo Bridge in her rec room while eating Klondike Bars. She cuts out articles from the paper and mails them to me with notes about why they are important. I've noticed the way she always invites the landscapers in to cool off with a soda. I've never heard her utter an unkind word about anyone. She's my Da.
One day I hope to be fortunate enough to have a granddaughter of my own. I'll tell her about two women, one in Escada, the other in a Garage Sale Goddess t-shirt, who left their fingerprints all over me. She'll hear my memories of them. She'll know that both were products of The Depression who used their lives to bring others joy. And maybe, just maybe, she'll be as in awe of me as I am of them.