SENIOR POWER : more about the G word

Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Friday August 22, 2014 - 01:14:00 PM

Sunday, September 7, is National Grandparents Day, an annual secular holiday celebrated in the United States since 1978. Then-President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation. It is expected to grow in significance as the number of grandparents in the United States rises as a result of the baby boom. A national grandparents day is officially recognized in a number of countries on various days of the year. 


The accomplishments late in the lives of Emma Rowena Caldwell Gatewood and Doris Haddock led to notoriety that referred to them as Grandma Gatewood and Granny “D.” Gatewood (1887-1973) and Haddock (1910-2010) were each subjects of books. 

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk , “the inspiring story of the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail” by Ben Montgomery, was published this year by Chicago Review Press. Gatewood was a conservationist, an ultra-light hiking pioneer, the first woman to hike approximately 2,200 miles (3,500 km), the Appalachian Trail from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. She did it solo and in one season. 

The Appalachian Trail is famous for its many hikers. Some, called thru-hikers, attempt it in a single season. Books, memoirs, web sites and fan organizations are dedicated to this pursuit. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (generally known as the Appalachian Trail or the A.T.Trail), the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail form the Triple Crown of long distance hiking in the United States. 

Granny D : Walking Across America in My Ninetieth Year, by Doris Haddock, with Dennis Burke, was published in 2001 by Villard. Her book-walk’s message was the need for change in candidates’ abuse of political media and campaign funds. As an American political activist from New Hampshire, Haddock achieved national fame when, between the ages of 88 and 90, starting on January 1, 1999, in southern California and ending in Washington, D.C., on February 29, 2000, she walked over 3,200 miles (5,100 km) across the continental United States to advocate for campaign finance reform

In 2004, she ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Judd Gregg for the U.S. Senate. Haddock requested a name change of her middle name to "Granny D," the name by which she had long been known. In 2004, her request was officially granted by Judge John Maher during a hearing at the Cheshire County, New Hampshire probate court

Johanna Adorjan (1971- ), a journalist at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Berlin, has written about her grandparents’ joint suicide pact and their well-planned death sixteen years earlier. Translated from German, published in 2011, An Exclusive Love; A Memoir, is not exactly a memoir nor autobiographical. She conjectures her grandparents’ final days and minutes. They had spent their lives in Hungary, Germany and Denmark. He was a Holocaust survivor. Although a physician, and not too long ago, he was unable to obtain colleagues’ counsel, let alone a copy of Derek Humphry (1930- )’s Final Exit bestseller. 

Adorjan reconstructs the day of her grandparents' joint suicide. Some of it is speculation, some based on her research. In an interview, she has said that half the book-time was spent researching, half writing. She found it difficult to read Final Exit, which her grandparents were ultimately able to obtain and use. 

“This felt really spooky–this powerful book that killed my grandparents. But then I opened it and it described this method of gassing yourself with a plastic bag? And then I thought, ‘My grandfather should gas himself after surviving a concentration camp?’ But then I came to see it as just a book, just words. It doesn’t force you to kill yourself. It just would be of help for people who decided to do so for their reasons.” 


The G word is newsworthy plus having literary and commercial appeal. The Berkeley Daily Planet has reported on numerous Raging Grannies events. Judging by the amount of drug store display space, adult diapers appear to outsell baby diapers. Elder porn is a growing industry. The ageist vendor of Granny Pictures -- free mature sex pics in hardcore mature porno ... is into equal time viz Fighting Grandads. Possibly cautious too-- “this site may harm your computer.” Japan is the world’s second-largest pornography consumer after the United States. “Sex niche” is the current euphemism. 

Many Japanese seniors live in solitude, estranged from or ignored by their families. A government survey found that many persons over age 60 had no neighbors, friends or relatives whom they felt they could rely on in difficult times. Part of the reason for the decline in senior citizens’ standard of living is their living longer. Like the Chinese and Koreans, the Japanese prize filial piety and expect children to dutifully tend to their parents. But Japan also faces the unique problem of tending to an increasingly elderly population. The data appear to be comparable to many Berkeley low-income senior tenants. 

Grandparents are increasingly responsible for child care and support. In 2012, 30% of children in the U.S. under age five with working mothers were cared for by a grandparent, usually a grandmother. Millions of grandparents, by being the primary caregivers for their grandchildren, are faced with the responsibility of raising two generations. Grandparents and boomers are making news defending their rights. Substance abuse, the rise in single parent households, HIV/AIDS, increases in female incarceration, teen pregnancy, and policy changes favoring foster care placement of children with relatives over non-relatives are among the reasons for dramatic growth in grandparent care-giving. Many writers and researchers perceive and report separation and divorce fallaciously in terms of two parents who are, and continue to be, concerned about their children’s welfare. 

Apropos. Lawyer in the Library is a service of some public libraries. In Berkeley, it is monthly on Thursdays, with sign-ups starting at 5 PM; August 28, 2014 Berkeley Public Library south branch 6-7:30. Legal Assistance for Seniors and Legal Assistance to the Elderly are located in Oakland and San Francisco, California.