Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Grandmother Behind the Man

Today is National Grandparents' Day. Of course, most people have grandparents, and family history, and ways in which the ancestral story shapes their development. But not everybody gets to meet every one of his grandparents. Theodosia, for instance, met neither of her paternal grandparents, because they were dead by the time that her father was two.

Aaron Burr, Sr. was the second president of Princeton University, back when it was not even called Princeton.  Burr was a theologian knowledgeable in the classics. It was his erudition, rather than his piety, that somehow was passed down to Theodosia, through her father,

Theodosia's grandmother, Esther Edwards Burr, left behind a Journal, the better for us to know her.

These were absent grandparents who still left quite a mark on the granddaughter who never got to meet them. But for Jean Laffite, who lost his mother as an infant, his grandmother was not a forgotten memory or a series of letters on a page. His mother having died shortly after he was born, Zora Nadrimal, Jean Laffite's grandmother, served him in place of a mother. It was she who taught him to read and to write (in Spanish) and who oversaw all his first lessons. She also instilled in him the desire to avenge the death of his grandfather at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition.

Jean Laffite inscribed one of his family bibles with the words: "I owe all my ingenuity to the great intuition of my grandmother..." They say that behind every great man is a woman. But it's not often that this woman turns out to be his grandmother!

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