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 a growing admiration of you, 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, my uncle B’s and Aunt H’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 present, you came to them to console them. My parents felt like that consoling was counter productive to the punishment. But I believe I remember at least once that you cried after one such incident. I have to admit I thought of you as being syrupy sweet and fragile. 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 after your death. From what I was told by my parents and Aunt H, 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 picture (here) of you and your mother, my great grandmother, (named Big Mama by my father, as a child). Both of you have such comfortable and sweet smiles.
Since people didn’t smile much when photos were made back then because the subject had to sit very still while the image was made on the chemically coated photo plates. I was delighted to see such smiles on your faces. Big Mama 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, Aunt M.
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. Your son, my daddy, shared that same love with us kids too.
Assuming from pictures of you as a child, you appeared very happy and very confident. That confidence coupled with inexperience may have led your life in a direction you never dreamed of as a 15 year old teenager.
You met a young immigrant, H who was 24 years old. He was pretty impressive, having come to our country when he was 15 in 1907. Amazingly in thirteen years he worked his way up from a grocery delivery boy on a bicycle to the wealthy owner of a very prosperous business. He was going places in the business world and evidently was impressed by you too.
Even though it was not uncommon for a younger woman to be attracted to and marry a wealthy older man, in an era when there was so much poverty, Big Mama, your mother, knew the potential dangers of a marriage between a young, teen-aged girl and a young immigrant with extremely different cultural ways. She tried to prevent the marriage but failed.
You, at the young age of 15 and H, age 24, were married. Two years later you gave birth to my father, J and later three other children. The youngest of which later died at age 5.
Being ejected from a protected, 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 was rather strange.)
I knew you couldn’t be around suffering of anyone or anything, whether it be emotionally or physically. You were very tenderhearted perhaps because in different ways you knew suffering personally. (See Part 2 coming out soon.)
But you adapted somehow to being the wife of a very wealthy man, who gave you an allowance to buy what was needed and for your own purposes. Were you happy? Only with your children. Were you comfortable? For physical needs, yes. You adored your children and loved them and motherhood.
You were always so proud of your grown children: J (my daddy), Aunt H, and Uncle B. I saw how they were very loving and protective of you. In fact after Grandpapa died, Aunt H never married and chose to live with you and take care of you as you aged.
There were many pictures Daddy took of you and Aunt H. You knew how to dress very stylishly. You and my aunt were like sisters in many ways because you never had many female friends, that I knew of.
Here is a picture of the family with all of the children present.
(You made the best life you could and evidently learned how strong you were as I describe in Part 2 of this letter.)