Obama visits ill ‘rock of the family’

Barnes writes for the Washington Post.

Of the four people who helped shape young Barry Obama into the man who is running for president, only one is left.

Barack Obama does not know if his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, will live to see whether his dream is realized. He arrived Friday at the modest apartment building at a busy intersection near downtown Honolulu where he once lived with his grandparents, to see her at least one more time.

“You know, we weren’t sure, and I’m still not sure, whether she makes it to election day,” Obama said in an interview with “Good Morning America” this week. “We’re all praying, and we hope she does.”


The Democratic nominee -- who campaigned Tuesday night in Miami, 4,800 miles away -- left the trail to see Dunham, whose 86th birthday is Sunday.

Dunham, Obama said, provided financial and practical stability among the colorful and enigmatic characters who populated his young life: the Kenyan father who left early on, the anthropologist mother given to wanderlust, the dreamer of a grandfather who was, as Obama wrote, “always searching for that new start.”

His grandmother -- whom he calls Toot, a shortened version of “tutu,” the Hawaiian word for grandparent -- was the down-to-earth one. “She’s where I get my practical streak,” Obama has said.

“She’s the one who taught me about hard work,” he told a packed stadium in Denver the night he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. “She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life.

“She poured everything she had into me.”

Obama took a break from his visit with her Friday morning to walk around his old neighborhood, dressed in a casual shirt, jeans and sandals. He looked sad and cut his walk short when he saw reporters across the street.

He talked openly about his relationship with his grandmother this week in interviews with morning network news shows.


“She has really been the rock of the family, the foundation of the family,” he said on CBS’s “The Early Show.” “Whatever strength and discipline that I have, it comes from her.”

Obama -- who last visited Dunham in August, with his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters -- plans to return to the campaign trail today.

He has talked about how, when his mother died young of cancer, the end came so suddenly that he did not get to Hawaii in time to say goodbye. He said he did not want that to happen again.