September 8. Grammy's birthday. Julia Kock Loddy, the child of John and Aurora Kock, Finnish emigrants who settled on a farm in Lunenburg, Massachusetts -- near the Finnish "ghetto" of Fitchburg -- around the turn of the (20th) century. Shades of Bronson Alcott, with lots of leftist utopianism in the air. Julia was the golden girl, the adored but cloistered sister -- Alice James, sister to Henry and William comes to mind: "In our family group girls scarcely seem to have had a chance" -- amidst a family constellation of two high-achieving brothers. Also one other brother that died as a child and broke the mother's heart. Grammy, the greatest teller of tales we ever knew, told of her family's watching the dead brother's soul ascend to Heaven. She also recounted a horrifying tale of her father's shooting the family dog for getting pregnant one more time (the woman made me do it, Lord?). Here must lie the deepest roots of our life-long feminism.
Julia would have been 105 today had she lived, but she was more than ready to go at 92, stuck in an old-folks' home, when she left this vale of tears. Eyesight gone, she could no longer read the great works that had sustained her lively mind when she lived for many years in her own little room upstairs at our parents' home. She was the one who took us grandchildren to the widescreen theater in Boston umpteen times to see "Lawrence of Arabia." She had read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and everything ever written by or about T.E. Lawrence. Oh, wouldn't we love to tap that recalcitrant all-about-oil mind today.
In our high school hussy days -- our sis and ourselves -- as townie gals in Exeter, New Hampshire, entertaining the Phillips Academy boys who lit up our lives, it was always Grammy -- later known via her first grandchild, Matthew's, epithet as JuJu -- who engaged the minds of those brilliant young future Masters of the Universe.
Julia had been a "child bride," arrange-married to a dashing Estonian officer of the Tsar's army -- the mysterious Hubby of our childhood -- as an eighteen-year-old. Mary, the precious child who later became our own dear mother, was born the next year. At some point in there, Grammy fled with infant Mary back home to her mother, who had long since returned to Finland. A year or two later Grammy returned stateside, and there's some faint memory of her having chosen, years later, to fund her daughter's college education vs. taking another trip back to Finland to see her mother one last time. Don't we wish we had paid more attention to her oft-repeated stories? So intense, so heartbreaking, so American.