Intersections – Grandmothers watching us

Posted by August 3, 2016
Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

By Nicki Salcedo, contributor 

Every time I see Donald Trump, I think about my grandmother. I try not to let politics upset me. I don’t believe the candidates are perfect. You won’t find political bumper stickers on my car. I don’t criticize anyone. I respect the process. I care. I research as best I can. I vote. I’m not swayed by the hysteria, right or left. I need to sleep at night, not panic.

My grandmother was once employed by the Trump family. In my mind, this has been a family secret. We keep weird skeletons in the closet. I know very little about those years. Maybe she signed a non-disclosure agreement. Probably not. My grandmother was a vault. She was private. For a long time I didn’t know any details.


The story goes like this: My grandmother worked as the weekend nanny for the Trumps. I’ve heard that she worked more closely with Ivana. I don’t know what children were under her care. I don’t know how long she worked for them. She never spoke of this to me. It wasn’t an issue of pride or embarrassment. My grandmother did what she had to do to survive. That meant work.

I try not to revise her life experiences with my perspective, but inevitably I do because she is my grandmother and I am her granddaughter. I am protective of her history. What did my grandmother sacrifice for me? I wonder if she was treated well. I think, yes. I wonder if her status as an immigrant meant that she could be paid less to do a, probably superior, job. The answer is also, yes.

I see this man on TV. He is adored. He is hated. He is polarizing. All I think about is my grandmother. He knew her. I think he is lucky that he knew my grandmother. She was no-nonsense. She didn’t take crap from anyone, but universally she liked people. She liked everyone she met. Except me.

I was the rude and rebellious grandchild. I would not listen. I often exasperated her with my outlook and attitude.

I know that my grandmother wanted the best for my dad, her only son and only child. She wanted him to get a college degree. She wanted him to be respected. But I wonder what my grandmother wanted for me and my sisters. Three girls in a difficult world. Three women in a time of ever-increasing opportunity. It makes me think about what I want for my own children. And theirs.

The last time my family flew, the female pilot gave out trading cards to children exiting the plane.

“Maybe one day you can fly an airplane,” the pilot said to my youngest daughter. Ultimate girl power moment. My heart burst into a million pieces. The kids had no idea why. A woman pilot. Big deal.


I wondered about the pilot’s mother and grandmother and sisters. I wondered about the men in her life who didn’t feel threatened by her simple dream. To fly airplanes.

What did our grandmothers want for us? Security? Breaking barriers? Freedom?

My grandmother once gave me a cookbook with the advice, “You’ll never find a husband, if you don’t learn how to cook.” I don’t follow directions well. From my grandmother or recipes. This explains why I don’t spend much time in the kitchen. My grandmother wanted simple things for me. Conformity, children, church. A husband to take care of me. She didn’t dream of me becoming a pilot or the President.

But she should have.

I am my mother’s daughter and my daughter’s mother. I am also a result of my grandmother’s influence. I liked to challenge her. “I’m never learning to cook,” I would say to her. I was wrong for that. I was disrespectful. Now she is gone, and I am sorry. She was wrong, too. Maybe she should have said, “Come and cook with me.” If she had said those words, I would have done what she said.

I wish she had said, “You are good at math.”

I wish she had encouraged me to paint. She thought art was foolishness.

I wish she liked my corduroy pants when I refused to wear dresses.

I think about my own kids, daughters and son. I want them to know how to work hard. I want them to take pride in whatever they do. I want them to be respectful when someone disagrees with them. I want them to choose marriage and kids and cooking and church. Pilot or President. Mathematician or street art. The world will not be the same for them as it was for me. It is changing.

I think about my grandmother. The Jamaican woman in New York. She liked the bus. She would talk to every bus driver. She would walk to the post office to buy a single stamp, because she enjoyed her community. Her life was tough. I hope happy at times. Cooking and cleaning and caring for children that weren’t her own. It’s not a sad story. It is a story of strength. She did those things for me. For my dad. For women.

I’ve seen two political candidates take the stage this month. I watched Hillary Clinton. She is adored. She is hated. She is polarizing. All I think about is my grandmother. I think about Ivanka. Did she know my grandmother? I think of Barbara and Jenna and Malia and Sasha and Chelsea. I think of Amy Carter’s treehouse. I think about all the girls who are someone’s daughter. How hard it must be to do your best with not just your grandmother watching, but the world. And how empowering.

“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.


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