Our Future President Hillary Rodham Clinton with
Congressman Charles Rangel, my Granny’s student and friend
Today is my maternal grandmother Frances Nettie Messinger ‘s birthday. I witnessed my beloved Granny suffer an agonizing and prolonged death from lung cancer. I’ll never forget the last time I saw her at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. She didn’t recognize me. This gentle, loving woman who had never even raised her voice at me started screaming. Without thinking about what I was doing, I sprinted out of her room and down the hall in terror. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew what I did was cowardly, but I was ignorant about death, and I wasn’t strong enough to face her decline.
Hers was the first death to affect me significantly. I was twenty-seven when she died and I plummeted into a deep depression. As nightmarish as my depression was, it only gave me a hint of what would come after I’d be diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder. To be honest, I’m glad Granny died before I was diagnosed so she didn’t see me suffer the horrors of bipolar. I know she would have been devastated.
While I’m lucky that my Granny and my Dad are the only deaths that have hit me so hard, I know more grief will arrive. For now, it helps me to remember my beloved family members when they were at their best.
Granny was an absolutely amazing woman. Yes, I sound biased, but read on and I’m sure you’ll agree. She was an elementary school teacher in Harlem, New York. Granny was a single mother to my Mom and she took care of her own mother “Bubba” until Bubba died peacefully in her sleep at age 93.
I was only five-years-old when Bubba died, but I remember her having a lively sense of humor and a clear mind. My most vivid memory of Bubba is when she shook hard with laughter while telling me a joke about the F-word. (Hey, now I know where I get my potty mouth!) I loved her bouncy laugh. Although I didn’t know exactly what the F-word meant, I could tell by her expression that it was naughty and that she got a big kick out of saying it.
On the other hand, Granny had an impeccable vocabulary. You’d never hear her utter an unsavory word for she was used to being an exemplary role model. This extremely dedicated teacher mentored many students, but one student stood out in her life. His name was Charles Rangel, and he would eventually became a Democratic Congressman and the first African-American chair of the influential Ways and Means Committee.
Granny and Congressman Rangel had a truly beautiful friendship. I was so proud of Granny for inspiring this extraordinary man to achieve his dream of governmental service. He is currently the second longest serving member of the House of Representatives.
I met Congressman Rangel when he gave the eulogy at Granny’s funeral in upstate New York. There were only six of us in attendance, and he took time out of his jam-packed schedule to make sure he was there. Despite my being in a fog of despair, I was comforted by my brief interaction with this warm and wonderful man who loved my Granny too.
I write in depth about this remarkable woman and our relationship in my memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder slated for publication in 2016 by Post Hill Press.
Yesterday I found a link that posted a speech given by Congressman Rangel. He honored my Granny in front of Congress, and as you can imagine, I was totally blown away by such a find. What a gift!
Thanks, Granny, for leading me to this link and for so much more…
I miss you.
In Memory Of Sixth Grade Teacher Nettie Messinger On Teacher Appreciation Day by Congressman Charles Rangel
Mr. Speaker, let me join with my colleagues. I did not come to speak on this subject, but just this Friday I attended the funeral of a sixth grade teacher that I had. She was more than an inspiration to one of the worst kids in the classroom, which was Charlie Rangel, but it was fantastic that the more success I received politically, the better she thought I was as a student.
How quickly they forget. I was so blessed to have had her, not only as a sixth grade teacher in Nettie Messinger but as someone who counseled me after I got out of the service, returned to high school and went on to college and law school.
There were so many, many students that she took this very, very personal relationship with. She did not just let you play hookey, she had to come by your house to let your parents know that you missed school.
On behalf of all of the students from old PS 89, some who get on TV and many others who do not, let me thank the teachers that follow the high tradition of real teaching as Mrs. Nettie Messinger did and join my colleagues in thanking all of our teachers, especially those in the public school system.