Happy Birthday, Grandma!
My grandmother, Frances Charlotte Moore Burruss, would have been 111 years old today. She died when I was just 24. I am eternally thankful for the all-too-brief time I had with her, what she passed on to me (her name, for one) and for all I learned from her.
I love knowing things about her (like that she really didn’t like the words “things” and “stuff”), that she was a flapper in the 1920s, drank bathtub gin and pulled one over on a young man insisting to see her papers on a train in Austria in the 1940s with a confident, “Do you know who I am?” (Of course, he didn’t, but he let her go with a “Yes, ma’am” and a sincere apology for troubling her).
I’m proud to know what she believed in. Like the ability of women to do most everything men can, even if she didn’t think they necessarily should. (I feel certain she would have changed her tune about that had she lived a bit longer). She was among the first class of women to earn an advanced degree from what is now Virginia Commonwealth University (then, Richmond Professional Institute). She called me Junior, saying that name suffixes were just a social construct and there was no reason why women shouldn’t be able to use them as men do.
Grandma was a religious woman who believed in freedom of it (or from it, if that was your preference). She signed all the letters she sent to me in college, “God bless you, whatever you perceive him to be.”
She believed everyone should have the opportunity to read, and she worked throughout her life to ensure peoples’ ability to do so. A proud literacy volunteer in Gloucester County for many years, as part of her work she taught prison inmates (some of them with life sentences) to read.
My grandmother was a life-long Virginian – one who had the good fortune to travel the world (both literally and in the form of the photo of her [below] that my grandfather carried with him during WWII [and possibly Korea]), learn about other cultures and experience other perspectives. She brought home what she learned, gave it consideration, applied it to her life here and passed a lot of it down.
Frances Charlotte for whom I’m named (as my father sometimes refers to her) loved Virginia and appreciated the rich history here and that we are surrounded by it. Most importantly, she understood and instilled in her family the value of learning from history, not just about it.
She was a big believer in the adage “you learn something every day”. Thanks to her, I am too, and I make it a point to.
Happy Birthday, Grandma.
Editor’s note: Want to join the 2019 Commemoration in honoring trailblazing women from Virginia and beyond? Come out to the Women’s Achieve Summit.