Dear Grandmother T,
I’ve thought of you often since your death over thirty years ago. I came to the conclusion that I never truly knew you until recently.
Several observations about my own life and marriage brought understanding and admiration of your strength and more compassion for you.
You see, Grandmother, I only knew you as a loving, generous, frail, gentle soul. You were just my grandmother, my daddy’s and Aunt Helen’s mother and Grandpapa’s wife.
You were always tenderhearted, sensitive and affectionate with us kids. If one of your grandchildren got a spanking while you were there, you came to them to console them. I believe I remember at least once that you cried.
I have to admit I thought of you as being syrupy sweet and frail. Little did I know or understand that you were really a “steel magnolia.”
As an older woman with my own life experiences I understand you now better than ever before. I am so sorry that I didn’t know more about you as a woman and wife until much later.
From what I was told by my parents and Aunt Helen, all of whom have since joined you, you were actually quite an extraordinary woman.
Knowing that you were born in 1901, I knew you grew up in difficult times. I loved the pictures of you and your mother, my great grandmother, named Big Mama by my father as a child.
Since people didn’t smile much in photos back then, I was delighted to see your and Big Mama’s smiles in this picture. She was obviously a strong, confident and happy woman herself.
During your childhood I know that Big Mama helped feed “hobos” and those who were in need and was active in her church. So you learned kindness and compassion.
I can believe that Big Mama taught you confidence by her example. Big Mama also adopted a relative’s baby, so you had a sister.
I heard that your biological father read to you when you were little; so you grew up loving books and later instilled that love into your children. My daddy, your son, shared that same love with us kids too.
Assuming from pictures of you as a child, you appeared very happy and confident. That confidence coupled with inexperience may have led your life in a direction you never dreamed of as a 15 year old.
You met a young Greek immigrant who was 24 years old. He was pretty impressive, having come from Greece when he was 14 in 1907. And in thirteen years worked his way up from a grocery delivery boy on a bicycle to the wealthy owner of the first bus line in South Carolina. He was going places in the business world and evidently was impressed by you too.
Your mother knew the potential dangers of a marriage between a young, teenaged girl and a young man with extremely different cultural ways. She tried to prevent the marriage but failed.
You at 15 and Henry, age 24, were married. Two years later you gave birth to my father, James and later three other children.
Being ejected from mid adolescence straight into adulthood, being a wife and soon after a mother, you never really got to be a teenager.
You spoke about how you never spanked your kids and chose non physical means of discipline to train them. (While I was growing up as a child who was disciplined by spankings I thought that rather unusual.)
I knew you couldn’t handle anyone or anything suffering., whether it be emotionally or physically. You were very tenderhearted perhaps because in different ways you knew suffering. yourself. (See Part 2 coming out soon.)
You were always so proud of your grown children: James (my daddy), Aunt Helen and Uncle Billy. I saw how they were very loving and protective of you. In fact Aunt Helen never married and chose to live with you and take care of you as you aged after Grandpapa died.
There were many pictures Daddy took of you and Aunt Helen. You knew how to dress very stylishly. You and Aunt Helen were like sisters in many ways because you never had many female friends, that I knew of.
You made the best life you could and evidently learned how strong you were as I describe in Part 2 of this letter.
Here is a picture of the family with all of the children present.