Recently I got a whole treasure trove of family photos and letters dating back to the 1940’s. Besides the unique family history, and material that my gradson can use in his future education, this gift set off a chain of thought about the women in my family tree.
Since we were looking at the pictures and V-mail on International Women’s Day, it set me thinking about my maternal grandmother. She was known by some cousins as the “storybook grandma”. I did not know much about her as I only met her once on a trip back to Michigan when I was seven.
The stories I have of her are from my own mother, who said that when her mom got married to her dad, they spent their honeymoon working at a lumber camp in Upper Michigan. Grandma was the cook, and I suppose Grandpa was a lumber jack. That tough and rough beginning prepared her for her future family life on various farms around the state of Michigan, and for bearing six girls and two boys.
Grandpa evidently traveled around on his job as produce buyer for a company, and was only home long enough to produce another baby.
That sounds cold, but I got the impression that in the last part of his life Grandpa was a bully, and would use the handle of his cane to snag any unaware grandchild passing by. He also made Grandma’s life harder by being a bad patient and demanding all sorts of service, not letting her have much of a respite from nursing him and dancing attendance.
I suspect there was a sigh of relief when he died. Later, the daughters took my Grandma out to dinners and shows so that she could have a normal life before she succumbed to a heart attack.
My aunts did not have an easy time in life, as they worked when they could and ran farms, hotels and homes all their lives. One had a handicapped boy who died early. One had the roof of her hotel blown off every year on Sanibel Island. One had an alchoholic husband. One got divorced. One got shipped off to her great grandma’s as a live -in companion at the age of nine.
One who married late witnessed her husband die painfully of cancer, and had very little in the way of financial resources.
My own Mom had a good life in California but was lonely for her sister’s and having no health insurance to speak of, died early of breast cancer.
All these women got through life without television, computers, fancy homes, or any assurance that they would be successfull, or have good marriages. They were remarkable in their perseverance and ability to survive obstacles that we would consider outrageous.