Dear Grandmother T. (Part 2)

For Part 1 of this letter

Dear Grandmother T.,

I understand you now in ways I never thought I would. I too had a happy marriage at first. Then things changed after the first four or five years. I now know the behavior I saw in you as weak and frail were the signs stress, many painful experiences and sadness in your married and adult life.

I know that you and Grandpapa had some pretty rocky times in your marriage. You were deeply hurt by his cultural differences. Henry came over from Greece at a time when many men treated their wives quite differently from the way they were treated even in America at that time.

In rural Greece during the early 1900’s when Grandpapa was growing up,  there were few laws to protect the rights of women, so he may have treated you quite differently than most American husbands would have.

Another sorrow in your life may have been losing your confidence and independence. Henry, by being older and the husband, by right (at the time) took charge of everything in your life. Before the 1920’s in America women had no rights and could be abused or mistreated at their husband’s wishes. Their existence was more or less for the husband and upkeep of his home and bearing of his children. But you had seen the love your parents had and I am sure wanted that too.

When my father, his brother and two sisters were still young, you informed Grandpapa that you were leaving him. You had had enough emotional pain and sadness. Although you wanted to take all four kids with you, Grandpapa would not let you take “his” sons with you. He allowed you to take only the two little girls.

How your heart must have been torn in two! With mixed emotions you left with your two daughters for Texas to stay with some relatives there. It wasn’t long before you missed your two sons so terribly that you came back to Grandpapa.

You were obviously a strong woman to leave your husband in a time when women were often treated as possessions; but how much stronger you were to return for the sake of your children, knowing the life ahead of you would be difficult at times. You had to have been a very strong lady to stand up to the man who could make your life miserable when he chose.

Original Theodore Family
James, Henry, Ruby in (Grandpapa’s lap), Billy, May, Helen

But Grandpapa was not without compassion. Your youngest daughter, Ruby died at five years of age, probably soon after this picture. (Ruby is the little girl in Grandpapa’s lap) from an upper respiratory infection that shut off her upper airway. You were so grief stricken you didn’t want to eat or drink and lay in your bed grieving for about a month.

Grandpapa hired nurses around the clock to care for you during that month. After which he told you that you had to get out of bed because you had three other children who needed their mother.

For the rest of your life you accepted your destiny and made the best of your situation. You made your children’s lives the best that you could. You grew into a proud loving mother.

Mother and son
Proud Grandmother May and son, James

I remember one of my parents mentioning that you could be stubborn about things so you must have gotten your bearings and taken charge of your wifely responsibilities: the kitchen, the household, the children, and to some degree your own life. I heard that you kept the house immaculate and was an excellent cook. I remember the Greek, lemon chicken soup you made was amazing.

Though Grandpapa was very controlling and could be difficult with his old country customs and his drive to be successful, he was often busy at his office. Your life was full of plenty and you seemed happy to me when I, as a child, knew you.

You were given an allowance each month and bought lots of nice clothes, jewelry, house goods, food and whatever you needed for yourself. You often bought us grand kids presents and clothes to help Moma and Daddy out when finances were tight. My two sisters, brother and I were your only grandchildren.

Grandmother and Aunt Helen dressed for winter.

But you, like me, learned to keep your pain private, not wanting to upset our family’s equilibrium or reputation. We both tried to keep things peaceful when we could. We chose our battles and rode the currents of our lives the best we knew how.

Grandpapa had a nervous breakdown and was actually hospitalized when James, my father, was in his thirties. He exhibited worsening personality changes as he grew older; my husband did too but his changes were from mini-strokes and poorly controlled diabetes. Oddly enough my husband’s name was also Henry.

Yes, I know you better now, Grandmother. We both turned our lives over to our husbands since they were so “obviously” intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced. We both became dependent, shy and timid for a while.

Eventually we learned who we were and that we were strong in our own right with our own talents and gifts to develop. We made our lives center around our children because we knew they loved us and we wanted to protect them as much as we could. But we fulfilled our responsibilities of caring for our children, homes and husbands at great personal cost.

I understand now your sensitivity, gentleness, affection and so much more. Those were signs of your life having been torn inside out. But you came out on the other side just like I did. Grandpapa died at 71, my husband died at 59. I missed the man I married, as you may have too.

We both had/have good lives after they passed away, partly because of what they left us and partly what we made for ourselves. We both made our lives peaceful and helped our children when they needed us. I love you more than ever now Grandmother. I understand more what an amazingly, strong and loving woman you were from what you experienced.

Love, as always,


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