On Monday morning, a day after her oldest daughter celebrated her seventieth birthday, Genevieve Florence Range passed away at the age of 95 in New Jersey. She was my grandmother, friend, and one of the major influences in my life.
Grandma, as her eight grandkids called her, was everything you wanted in a grandmother. She was, among many other things, always loving, always smiling, and always supportive. When I came out of the closet several years ago, I was living in Los Angeles, far away from my family who live in Spring Lake, New Jersey. So my mother sat down Grandma to tell her the news. She was 88 at the time, and Mom was a little nervous about what she would think.
Genevieve Range on vacation in Asbury Park, NJ, with her daughters, Dellie, left, and Beanie, in 1946.
“Patrick is a wonderful person,” she said to my mother. “So what?!” Grandma had something of an angry look on her face, Mom told me, as if she was ready to fight anyone who would do me harm. My mother then fell into her arms and said thank you.
Grandma’s feisty blessing no doubt made it easier for everyone in my family, including myself, to deal with my homosexuality. She then called me soon after that, asking if I had a “special friend.” I said I didn’t, which led to an interesting talk about condoms and HIV. Grandma wanted me to stay healthy, and I promised to be careful.
There was something very special about my grandmother, especially when you consider her background. Gen, as she was known, was born on February 17, 1913 in The Bronx to William and Mary Dodd. William sailed over from Killorglin, Ireland, in 1880, stopping first in Boston. He was briefly a journalist in Connecticut, but moved to New York City to make more money and landed a job with the U.S. Postal Service.
William then met and married Mary McGrail. They had six children: two boys and four girls. But when Gen was three, her mother died. Times were tough for working folks like my great-grandfather, and he made the difficult decision to place three of the girls into a Catholic orphanage for five years. Gen was one of them.
Whenever Grandma told me stories about the orphanage, she would always laugh at some point. In fact, I don’t recall her saying anything bad about that experience, and it’s hard to think of a time when she was ever negative when I talked with her, despite the fact that she had lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the hard times New York City faced in the 1970s, and other bleak periods in American history. She was always positive, always thinking how something seemingly bad was a good lesson to learn.
One of her mantras for life was very simple: “Everything in moderation.” Which stuck with me, with varying degrees of success. She also had a great line for putting me to bed when I was a kid: “Good night, dear,” she would say, “and dream in Technicolor.” She would say it with what sounded to me as a very elegant Bronx accent—“tech-na-colah.”
Gen eventually graduated from St. Augustine Grammar School and then made it through two years of high school. By junior year at Roosevelt High, her oldest brother, Bill, told her it was time to get a job. So she found work at Western Union in Manhattan. Gen later worked as a secretary at Mount Saint Vincent College and Manhattan College. Her last job was as an executive secretary at Columbia University, where she retired at the age of 65.
In between all of that, she married my grandfather Walter Range—my middle name—in 1937 and gave birth to two daughters, Adelle and Arlene. Arlene, or better known as Beanie, is my mother. You hear a lot of talk about hockey moms these days, but Gen was part of a long line of women who worked and took care of her family without a lot of fanfare.
And that was something else about my grandmother. She loved to talk, but she was never loud or rude or phony. Grandma was also willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, until they proved otherwise. She was, in the end, an excellent role model.
After living for 95 years, it must have been interesting for her to watch how things unfolded with her family. With me, for example, I attended Fordham University in The Bronx, which among Irish American Catholics of a certain age and place was like attending Harvard. She was very proud of me, and she loved the fact that she attended high school directly across the street from the Fordham campus. When I became a journalist, she was again very proud, especially since I was taking up where her father had left off. In some real ways, Grandma and me are wonderful examples of an unfettered American Dream in action.
Genevieve Range was a fun gal from The Bronx, and she always said she lived a good life. I’ll miss her, but I also have enduring memories of my grandmother, and all of them, in bright Technicolor, make me smile or laugh out loud. It’s probably the best gift any grandma can give a grandchild. Thank you.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.