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My Childhood Hero Lives On

Grandma passed away peacefully in her living room, just like she wanted to, about a year and a half ago. I was glad to be there at the time, holding down the fort with friends and relatives who came to say goodbye in their various ways.

Now aunt Marsha is cleaning out grandma's closets and I'm hoping to find new homes for some of her things. She had great style, and an amazing beehive hairdo.

One of my favorite times with Grandma Dorothy is when she took me to see the double feature of "Death Race 2000" and "Mad Max" at the Twilight Drive-In. It was 1979. I was seven. We sat in the front seat of her chocolate-brown Cadillac drinking sodas and eating popcorn as my eyes boggled out of my head. I saw my first naked people getting massages, blood splattering everywhere as everyday people were run down for points by tricked out race cars, and an Australian policeman seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and toddler. These summer days and nights with grandma were the absolute best, and I knew when things were going to get awesome every time she'd say, "Jenny, don't tell your mother about this".

One night while grandma was piloting the Cadillac through a rainstorm and I was sliding around in the gigantic, slippery brown leather front seat, we caught sight of a man holding what seemed to be a little bundle of a baby. I said, "Grandma, he's not wearing a coat!" She asked me if we should stop and even though I was scared, I said, "yes". She pulled over. The man's hair was stuck to the side of his face and his clothes and body were soaked. The bundle in his arms was completely quiet and covered.

He got in the car and asked us to drive him to the hospital. It was maybe only a short mile, and he had been walking a few miles already because he had no car and no phone at home to call an ambulance. He said something about his baby not waking up.

When we finally arrived in the hospital driveway, the bright lights of the emergency room brought a sense of relief. The man got out of the car and ran. Grandma and I sat for a minute looking at each other and I think we were both wishing we could do more, and weren't sure that we could or we should.

The next time I visited seems like several months later, as I remember feeling older and wiser. I was probably eight by now, so that seems about right. Grandma showed me a newspaper clipping from The News Review that she had tucked away by the chair where she liked to sit and watch The People's Court. The news clipping was a note from the man thanking the nice lady and her granddaughter for giving him and his baby a ride to the hospital on that rainy night. The doctors said the baby girl will be fine, and might not have made it through if she had not had that ride.

I'm older now than grandma was then. Going through her things is such a luxury. Touching, feeling and smelling them feels safe again. Hoping that by cleaning out her closet and sharing her things, those items will help someone else feel empowered and capable of helping a stranger, or leading a child on an adventure and safely back home again.


Jen Procter Andrews has founded three startups and sits on the Health Advisory Board and the Nasomah Board of Directors for the Coquille Indian Tribe. She lives in Portland, OR with her husband and niece.

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