Discord In Harmony
A tale of love, duplicity, duty, deceit, and yes, discord and harmony
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Just Some Thoughts: Women Of Two Centuries

My brothers and I called our father's mother, Grandma Mac. Her real name was Grace Dickson McMahon. Born in August 1879 in San Francisco, California, she was the daughter of Fremont Dickson of Pennsylvania and Maria de Leon of Mexico. Not much is known about her early life, but after she married my Grandfather Edwin, they settled in Sonora, CA and by 1900, at the age of 21, she already had borne the first two of her eleven children.

Two thousand miles away, around the time that Grace was six, my other Grandmother, Mary Alice, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to Beauregard Cornelius Heidt and Mary Helen McInnes. She married my Grandfather James Avery Finger in 1912 at the age of 26 and bore him three children, two sons and a daughter, my mother.

These two women had more than just thousands of miles separating them. In many ways they couldn't have been more different. My California Grandmother was born into a state still wild by Eastern standards and still reverberating from the shock waves of the Gold Rush. Indeed, her husband's father had come to California in 1858 in hopes of finding gold and was captured by Indians and held captive for two years. My South Carolina Grandmother, on the other hand, grew up in what was considered a genteel society, could trace her roots to at least as far back as the Revolutionary War, married a doctor and had a nanny to help raise her three children.

What these two women did have in common though were lives devoted to God, family, responsibility and community. Grace was Catholic and rearing her children in her faith was of supreme importance to her; Mary Alice was Episcopalian and church attendance every Sunday was a ritual that was never missed. These two women also believed in personal responsibility. Each of my father's siblings had responsibilities in that busy household and from their youngest years learned how to look after and take care of each other. In my mother's family, one learned early to accept responsibility for one's actions for, as my Grandmother often told my Mother, "If you make your bed hard, you will have to lie in it." There was no accepting of excuses in either of those lady's families; each family member had to pull his or her own weight. These were good lessons to be learned on both sides of a continent that would soon be caught in the quagmire of a Great Depression.

As their children grew, these woman also devoted much of their time to their communities. During the Depression, Grandmother Mary Alice sometimes accompanied my Grandfather on his housecalls in the poorer neighborhoods and willingly accepted jars of preserves, chickens, whatever the people could afford as payment. Grandma Mac made a point of visiting the sick and needy throughout the Sonora area.

These strong moral women bridged the gap of two centuries, combining the best qualities of their 19th. Century beginnings with those of the new. I hope I have inherited at least part of what was strong and good about them to take with me into what seems will be a most challenging and perilous 21st.Century.


Grace and Edwin McMahon with family about 1923(?)


Mary Alice Finger, about 18 years old, with her brother Carl.


Mary Alice Finger and Grace Dickson McMahon at their one and only meeting, photo probably taken around 1955.