Grandmere: A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt

Grandmere: A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt

by David B. Roosevelt, Manuela Dunn-Mascetti

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Until her death when he was 20, David B. Roosevelt enjoyed a close relationship with his grandmother Eleanor Roosevelt. Now David shares personal family stories and photographs that show Eleanor as she really was.  See more details below


Until her death when he was 20, David B. Roosevelt enjoyed a close relationship with his grandmother Eleanor Roosevelt. Now David shares personal family stories and photographs that show Eleanor as she really was.

Editorial Reviews

Millions knew Eleanor Roosevelt as a formidable public figure, but David Roosevelt knew her as a grandmother, his sweet and vibrant "grandmère." This biography, the first written by a family member, presents this first lady and renowned humanitarian as a passionate, vulnerable, and courageous woman who overcame a painful childhood to become a powerful spokesperson for numerous causes.
Publishers Weekly
"Grandmere stood at the center of my childhood, and many of my fondest memories return to that idyllic time, a time that was private and intimate and in which she was simply my grandmother." Roosevelt shares these warm recollections of his grandmother Eleanor in a fond biography of a strong and resilient woman and a sweet grandmother. He remembers the bustle and excitement around Eleanor when he spent holidays at her beloved home, Val-Kill, in New York's Hudson Valley. While he renders the generally well-known facts of Eleanor's life, it is the personal touches, drawing on his own memories and those of other family members, that distinguish this account, for instance, her confiding in the author's Aunt Anna that "like all women of [the late Victorian] era, she was taught that sex was an ordeal to be borne" and that sex had been for Eleanor "an extremely difficult part of married life." There is, however, not as much of this personal insight as one would hope for. The book's strength may be in the pictures from family collections. Overall, this is a touching, human-size account of a woman who seemed larger than life. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Eleanor Roosevelt's grandson reprises the familiar events of her life. The author, who was 20 when Eleanor died in 1962, offers scanty but affectionate recollections of time spent with her, especially the summer vacations at Val-Kill. Built in the 1920s as a refuge where Eleanor could relax with her friends away from her domineering mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, Val-Kill was "paradise" for David, his siblings, and their cousins. "There were few rules and even fewer schedules," and "Grandmère" was always a warm, attentive presence. The author notes that Eleanor had "an amazing facility for engaging even very small children in conversation. [She was] always encouraging me to tell her about myself, the things I was doing, and what interested me, no matter how young I was." As he recalls the history of the Roosevelts, David also describes his grandmother's lonely childhood and her close relationship with Teddy Roosevelt, whom she loved and admired, though politics soured staunchly Democratic Eleanor's relationship with the next generation of Republican Roosevelts. This estrangement, David notes, has ended; the two branches of the family now meet on a regular basis. Quotes from family letters and Eleanor's own writings document the high and low moments of her of life, including her beloved father's early death, her mother's coldness, her sense of betrayal when she discovered that FDR had conducted an affair with Lucy Mercer, her role in his administration, and her triumphant efforts to make her own life. Eleanor was bitterly hurt to learn that Lucy Mercer Rutherford was with the president when he died, and David suggests that for much of her life she had to fight depression. Hergreatest quality, he observes, was "the ability to be absolutely ordinary and in that simplicity to be most extraordinary." Mike Wallace's introduction recalls his 1957 TV interview with Mrs. Roosevelt. A loving tribute distinguished more by the many hitherto unseen family photographs than by the familiar memories.

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Grand Central Publishing
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A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt
By David B. Roosevelt with Manuela Dunn-Mascetti

Warner Books

Copyright © 2002 David B. Roosevelt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0446527343

Chapter One


When we were children we used to collect pine cones and paint them with airplane paint and then put sparkly things on them ... She would burn them in the fireplace, and they made pretty colors when you burnt them. It was great! And she really just loved those things that children end up doing for you. It was the love that she loved coming from us.

-Nina Roosevelt

There are moments of childhood that lodge in our memories and sometimes linger there tenaciously for the rest of our lives. This or that instant, rather than a million others, sheds light and glows warmly years after the moment. I have many such vivid memories pervaded by the presence of Grandmère. Though photographs exist of me as a small child sitting on my grandfather's knee at the White House or at home in Texas, my earliest and most vivid memories are of holidays spent in unadulterated freedom at Grandmère's Val-Kill, her beloved home and retreat from a hectic life in upstate New York.

An intense feeling of anticipation marked the beginning of school holidays, when I would fly in the early days of American Airlines from my family's home in Fort Worth to New York, and then take the train up theHudson River Valley to Poughkeepsie, where I was met by my father and stepmother and, of course, Grandmère. In fact, as happens so often with small children, the sheer pitch of the excitement of being once more in the thrilling atmosphere of Grandmère's home surrounded by an onslaught of cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and the occasional famous visitor would at times be overwhelming. But the return to Grandmère's Val-Kill was the highlight of many holidays. Perhaps because I lived so far away with my mother, sister, and brother, the times spent with Grandmère were all the more special to me. For a small, ever-inquisitive child, the endless stream of activities and interesting people in her home made it the most absorbing, wonderful place imaginable.

Upon arriving at Val-Kill I would be swept up into the busy, adventurous atmosphere that surrounded Grandmère. My older brother, Tony (Elliott Jr.), and my sister, Chandler, had that same sense of Val-Kill. For us it was a time to be reunited with our father, who, after the divorce from my mother and subsequent remarriage, lived for a period at Top Cottage, just a short walk from Grandmère's through dense woods. But while that reunion was always a time anticipated, the real excitement lay just down the hill at Val-Kill.

For us children, Val-Kill was paradise. There were few rules and even fewer schedules, and we were left free to do practically whatever we wanted - riding horses across the open fields and through the woods, boating in the Fall-Kill Pond, carousing with cousins for endless hours, swimming in the pool, playing games or drawing on rainy days in the Playhouse. Grandmère was always attentive and warm, and we had the constant feeling that no matter what important person had come to see her or what her work demanded, her grandchildren always came first. She used to call me the "little cowboy" or "little Texas" because of my penchant for wearing cowboy boots and shorts, my favorite attire as a small child. And though I might have been a charming and engaging little boy, as some said, even then I was hardheaded and self-driven. Never one for napping in the afternoon like the other small children, I would spend hours playing outside and making up great adventures, and then I would tear through the house at great speeds to get to her bathroom (usually the closest to wherever I might be at the time of urgent discovery!), racing through the study where Grandmère might be quietly working with Tommy, or in later years Maureen Corr, or meeting with important people. It seems I always waited until the very last minute to make that urgent mad dash. She never scolded me or grew agitated in the least by the carryings on of her grandchildren, despite the fact that there were often many of us causing utter chaos. Of course, I'm certain even we could push the limits of her patience, but perhaps I have just forgotten those rare moments.

I think I must have been aware that Grandmère was an important person - surely I knew she was somehow special. But to me she was simply my grandmother, and I related to her in that warm, intimate way a small child does to someone who is consistently loving and attentive. She had an amazing facility for engaging even very small children in conversation. I remember her as always encouraging me to tell her about myself, the things I was doing, and what interested me, no matter how young I was. I could go on walks with her if I wanted to talk about something special, or she would often invite me to go with her to run errands in the village of Hyde Park. We would go to the post office or grocery shopping, and local people would always greet her with "Good morning, Mrs. R" or address her as "Mrs. Roosevelt." To my memory, only a few of her closest friends and family ever called Grandmère by her first name, Eleanor, perhaps out of deep respect. Minnewa Bell, my father's fourth wife, used to call her "Mother R," a salutation that many of her other daughters-in-law used as well.

Grandmère's Val-Kill was a very special place, not just to me but to practically everyone who visited there. I find it interesting today when I return to listen to the reactions of other visitors: "Why, it's so simple, so unimposing, not at all what I would have expected!" Yet others will remark on its serenity, and immediately understand how it could be so important to Grandmère. For me, it is merely a place of so many memories, so many wonderful times spent with my grandmother - nothing more, nothing less.


Excerpted from Grandmere by David B. Roosevelt with Manuela Dunn-Mascetti Copyright © 2002 by David B. Roosevelt
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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