Just Dangerous Enough



My Grandmother was tiny—she didn’t quite make it to five feet tall. Born in the wilds of Alberta at the end of the 19th century, she lost her mother when she was just 10 years old and her baby sister was three. Her dad worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and was often gone for long stretches of time.

For the first few months after her mom’s death, Elsie ran their home. Until she started buying more candy than food at the grocer’s! After that, she and her sister lived with their aunt in Vancouver and started attending the Salvation Army church. By her mid-teens, Elsie was a soprano soloist with the Army, singing on street corners and regularly attracting a small crowd. She attended secretarial school and worked in an office for a while, but felt the tug to head to Winnipeg to train to become an Officer for the church.

One afternoon a handsome older man heard her sing. He was immediately smitten, and so was she. Elsie had just enough of the rebel in her spirit to choose a man 12 years older, one who was divorced and a former gold miner to boot! They married very quickly and the idea of Winnipeg and officer training faded into the distance.

They had three children in quick succession and Elsie was pregnant with the fourth when they decided to move to California. They raised their four children in several different neighborhoods in the greater Los Angeles area, Elsie working full-time for most of those years. Elsie Hobson was an early subscriber to the feminist ideal of equal pay for equal work!

At the age of 54, she bought a house in the San Fernando Valley and she and Harry began a nursery school. The school was such a success, they added a second one that eventually became a private elementary school.

Elsie had a gentle demeanor that disguised an iron will and a determined spirit. Despite serious health complications, she continued to work at those schools until she was in her 80s. Her husband died when she was 70, and she kept both schools going until her eyesight completely failed her and her heart gave out.

She learned how to drive when she was 60 years old. I remember her shooting backwards out of the driveway, her head barely visible above the steering wheel! Talk about dangerous. Oh yes, this woman was dangerous, in just about every way I can think of.

I never learned about the training school in Winnipeg until I, too, was in my early 50s. By then she was living in a care facility that was on my commute during the first few months of my pastoral work here in Santa Barbara. I did a lot of driving in those early weeks and each week, I would stop and visit with her as I headed north.

Elsie would grab my hand and say, “Diana, you’re finishing what I started and I’m so, so glad!” I would smile and say, “Thanks, Nonnie. I’m glad I’ve got your story in my heart as I step into this new role.”

She was small and quiet, but I tell you what—the heart of a lion beat in the chest of my grandmother. Her encouragement meant the world to me as I ventured out into my own midlife adventure. Elsie Thompson Hobson was not a perfect person—who among us is? She made mistakes; she stepped on toes. She sometimes bungled the whole parenthood gig. But she was brave and strong and good. She was just dangerous enough to cut her own path through life. I often remember her courage as I cut a path through mine.


Image credit: hdport