August 5, 2006, 7:56 am

And I Owe It All to You: Grace L. Kendall (August 10,1891-June 15,1969)


Four generations.

That’s me at age 2, sitting on my dad’s lap. He was 20. My grandmother, Dorothy is behind us. She was 43.

This post is about the lady in the front.

My great-grandmother, Grace Lippincott Kendall.


In this photo, taken in 1959, she was 66.

She was born in 1891, twenty six years after Lincoln’s assassination and the end of the Civil war. Three weeks after the USA Sioux war ended and twenty years before women were given the right to vote in the state of California.

Mark Twain would still be alive for another nineteen years and was traveling in Europe at the time of her birth.

Chester Arthur was President. (I had to look that up.)


She wasn’t a nurse.

In fact, she was a school teacher. Taught twelve grades in one classroom.

At twenty-three, she married a man twenty-three years older and had my grandmother that same year.

I have the wedding photo album. In it is a photo of her great grandparents. So I have a photo of a couple of my great, great, great grandparents.


And I know this because she kept meticulous notes on every single photo taken, including the names of every student in one of her class pictures.

Twenty-three years later, she was a widow.

At one time, she was the postmaster for Lafayette, California.

In fact, I have the flag that flew over that post office on November 11, 1918: Armistice Day.

And no, she wasn’t related to the Lippincotts responsible for the Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice.

She was, however, responsible for a much more modest contribution to the nursing profession.



Ladies take parasols when they go on walks to protect their skin from the sun.”

“A book is like a friend, you don’t treat your friends badly so don’t treat your books that way.”

“People will judge you by your penmanship. A sloppy signature means a sloppy person.”

“Always say hello to your host and hostess first, then you can go on and play.”

And we did, my sisters and I. We used parasols, when we took walks with her. We treated our books with respect. We always said hello to my grandmother and grandfather first, before running into Grandma Grace’s huge bedroom in the back of the house, not to emerge again until dinnertime.

And to this day, I will rewrite an entire nursing note if it is not up to my/her standards of penmanship perfection.


Every Sunday.

Every Sunday in my conscious memory for eleven years we spent at the home of my grandparents. Grandma Grace lived with them.

She had treats stashed everywhere in her room. She would dole them out judiciously, all through the day.

But never enough to “spoil” our dinner.

She had eleven different bottles of perfume on her dresser. We’d mix them up and make our own “scents”. Her sense of smell must have been impaired because we stunk to high heaven.

We must have. Everyone else in the house told us we did.

She’d let us play “nurse” in her room. I was the nurse with my cap made out of binder paper and held onto my head with paperclips. My sisters were the “patients” in the “hospital” under the card table.

The only time she kicked us out was during Perry Mason. I knew I had crossed a milestone when she let me stay in and watch it with her.

And the only Sunday we didn’t spend in the room, and the only time I saw her cry was when her best friend and companion, Lillian Dorrington, passed away.


She had books. Lots and lots of books.

I read the entire “Anne of Green Gables” series when I was seven.

I read “Gone With the Wind” when I was eight. I understood it when I was twenty.

She had Rudyard Kipling but I wasn’t interested in those.

Every year she would buy books for my birthday.

“Little Women” – “every young girl should have that book in her collection!”, she told me.

I bought my oldest daughter her copy when she was seven months old.

The Trixie Belden series. Some of you may remember that.

To her everlasting credit, she never bought me a single “Nancy Drew” mystery.

I hated Nancy Drew.


On July 16, 1966, two days after my 9th birthday. I received a gift of two books from Grandma Grace. One was “Cherry Ames, Student Nurse” and the other was “Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse”.

I spent that day sitting on the front porch reading.

That’s the day I announced my intention of becoming a nurse.

“It’s a good profession,” said Grandma. “Something you can always fall back on if you need to. You should always be able to support yourself.”

A pre-feminist feminist? Never really looked at it that way. She worked outside the home. Could remember a time when women could not vote.

Somehow I just can’t picture my Grandma as a radical.

She didn’t like the Beatles.


For the next nine years of my life, everything I did was done and planned with the idea of nursing school in my future. Every class, every project. And of course, more Cherry Ames to fan the flames.

I was accepted into the first and only program I applied to.

An ADN program at a local junior college.

I graduated in June of 1978.

My entire lifestyle, the ability to give my children a private education, own a home…in fact the trajectory of my life really began that summer day in 1966, on a front porch in San Lorenzo, California, reading a book given to me for my birthday.

By Grandma Grace.


Grandma never lived to see my dream of being a nurse become a reality.

She was stricken with the Hong Kong flu in 1969, developed complications and died as she had always said she wanted to go, peacefully in her sleep. Mercifully, because they also discovered she had cancer in her bones.

At eleven years old, death was quite foreign to me. At my grandmother’s request, there was no service. She was cremated and buried in a family plot in Lafayette.

She was just gone.

And I was just numb.

I don’t think I truly grieved for her until I was standing there in my cap and my white uniform receiving my nursing pin at graduation nine years after she died.

She should have been there.

I know I was thinking about her that day.

I never got the chance to thank her.


This August 10th will mark the 115th anniversary of her birth. She had two grandchildren, has five great-granchildren, 17 great-great grandchildren and four great-great-great grandchildren as of this posting.

My oldest daughter was named Lillian; I think she would have liked that.

My cousin Tim named a daughter after her, so her name lives on in the family line.

And every time I touch a patient or hold a hand or make someone laugh at work or manage to hold it together for that last hour of a hellacious twelve-hour shift, it means that my Grandma Grace is still making an impact in this world thirty-seven years after her death.

And I’m proud of that.

I like to think there was a joyous reunion with my dad when he passed away six years ago.

And when my day comes, I’ll finally have the chance to say:

Thanks, Grandma!

For everything.


  • Susan

    August 5, 2006 at 9:43 am

    This is beautiful, Kim. Thank you so much for writing it!

  • d

    August 5, 2006 at 11:45 am

    This is wonderful. It’s not often people can point to a specific person in their life and say, “Look what they did for me.” I think your grandmother knows exactly what she did for you and how grateful you are.

  • Moof

    August 5, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Kim, that was beautiful. Thank you for sharing Grandma Grace with us. We’ll all be a bit richer now, having touched in even this small way.

  • DisappearingJohn

    August 5, 2006 at 4:56 pm


    Not much to add, other than thanks for an incredible post…

    She sounds like an incredible lady

  • Shannon

    August 5, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    Beautiful post!

    My father was an indirect inspiration for me to get into the medical field. Even though it was one of the hardest times of my life, I didn’t mind the medical care I gave him every day. He had an assortment of medications, a bag to clean, and feet to run lotion on. Sure, at 19 years old I was not the most intelligent human being to walk the earth. I saw it more as being “stuck at home” than anything back then. I know I was in a way avoiding what was happening to my father, dying from pancreatic cancer. Now, when I look back I wish I had the same values and intelligence that I have now at 26. I wish he could see me as I start my own journey towards a nursing degree. I’m sure he does see me, though.

    Just as I’m sure your great grandmother sees you.

    I’m sure she just BEAMS.

  • Kristi

    August 5, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    That was beautiful….it’s not often that one reads a blog and has such an emotional reaction. She was an awesome Grandma. She would be honored by your post.

  • tscd

    August 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    Your Grandma sounds wonderful. It’s nice when grandparents are involved in a child’s life.

  • John Cowart

    August 6, 2006 at 2:47 am

    What a great tribute to Grandma Grace.

    PS: I didn’t know they had para-sails way back then.

  • TC

    August 6, 2006 at 5:31 am

    Kim, that was so nice. I used to spend every Sunday at my grandparents house, too. I still dream about them and that house sometimes. The relationship with your grandparents is special and so different than with your parents.

  • Annemiek

    August 6, 2006 at 6:37 am

    A beautiful tribute to your grandmother. I too have great memories of my own grandmother, and have often though about writing about it, but never have… yet.

  • Mother Jones RN

    August 6, 2006 at 10:03 am

    Aren’t grandmothers the best. You wrote a wonderful tribute to your grandmother.

  • Garry

    August 6, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    Very nice…always a pleasure to read your posts. Reminds me of my grandfather who lived to be 103 (1893-1997). By the way, I think, if you do the math again, this will be the 115th aniversary of your great-grandmother’s birth. 🙂

  • […] As I said in my original post, a joining of two cultures can be a temporal relationship as well as an interpersonal one. Kim at Emergiblog shares a tribute to her great-grandmother who was pivotal in her decision to become a nurse, reconnecting through her memories of an era long past. […]

  • Lisa

    August 8, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    I’m late getting to this post, but had to tell you I read it with tears in my eyes. Florence was my grandmother and she was an RN. When I was young she was the administrator of a nursing home. She ran a tight ship. I still remember her in her white uniform, hose, shoes and cap. She bought me the same Cherry Ames books and told me stories of her nursing school experiences (like when she got high mending the rubber gloves with ether and no ventilation). When I was in 4th grade she taught me about I&Os when my mom was recovering from back surgery and I knew then that I would be a nurse. She pinned me at my nursing school graduation ceremony in 1986 and it was such a proud moment for both of us. She passed away in 1992, but she is with me every day. Thanks for your wonderful story and the opportunity to ramble on with mine!

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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