My Grandmother as Young Woman – Photographer Unknown
Thank you …
Because of you
I know strength
That a woman
Can stand alone
My grandmother was a remarkable woman. She was named Margaret. I don’t ever remember hearing anyone call her by her given name except Aunt Melitta, (you remember her) and she called Grandma, Marge. Grandma hated that name. Grandma never corrected her, but would make a face behind Aunt Melitta’s back sometimes to me. A lady never corrected others in public.
Her mother died when she was quite young. We don’t know a great deal about her life then because she didn’t talk about it a great deal. We know that for a time, she lived with an Aunt. We don’t know where my great grandfather was that he left his children with this woman, we just know that he did.
As my grandmother got older, they moved back with her father. She was then responsible for her younger brothers and sister. At night, she played piano at the local theater to make money. She also attended a woman’s college to become a teacher and taught school for a while.
She loved to dance and would go dancing every Saturday night. She had a favorite dance partner. His name was Buford. I remember her telling me about him. I couldn’t stop laughing because I thought that was the funniest name I had ever heard. Please forgive my silliness, but I was only about 11 or 12 when I first heard about Buford. I was to hear that story many times to come and I promise I never laughed like I did the first time.
Grandma met my grandfather at one of those dances. He became her dance partner and I guess Buford as well as her other dance partners fell along the wayside. I’m only guessing, but it sounded like Grandpa filled her dance card up so no one else could put their names on it. He was tall and lanky, he towered over her. All 5’ of her. I remember her telling me she was all legs and feet! She wore a size 5 shoe.
I don’t know anything about the early years of her marriage. She never spoke of it. I know that she had lost 2 babies, because she gave birth to 9 children; seven grew to adulthood. Only 4 remain. My mother, a sister and a brother have passed over to her. My mom and her sister to cancer, my uncle in a tragic motorcycle accident.
What I do know, is that my Grandpa was an alcoholic. When he drank, he was a mean man and became abusive. Eventually, my Grandma divorced him. In those days, there were no such things as child support let alone divorce. It was unheard of. At least we were told they were divorced. In doing our family tree we could find no public documents to support this. Perhaps they were just legally separated. Our family never talks about that. I think this is because my Grandma never talked about it. She was, until the day she passed, a highly private woman.
Back to her history though. Throughout the years of her marriage, she worked full time. She had to, with my grandfather’s drinking, they needed the income. Being a woman, her earnings were meager and barely supported this large family. My mother tells how they ate farina for breakfast, lunch and dinner some days. During this time, the house was clean, laundry done and all without today’s modern conveniences. Photos of my grandmother back then show a tired woman. Aging fast due to the constant toil of work and raising 7 active children.
Though dirt poor, (and I’m not exaggerating) my mother and her siblings have told stories of their growing up that were for the most part, of high spirited and innovative children. Who played with each other and made up games. They even put on a yearly play at Christmas time with each having a role. My mom had spoken of other kids making fun of them for their poverty, and of resenting the local bar owner’s children always having more than they did however, so the effect of her father’s drinking lasted well into her adult years as she never touched a drop. But, as usual, I digress.
I remember my Grandma’s right arm being crooked at the elbow. As a child, I never thought about it. That’s just how her arm was. As I grew older, around 12-14 years old, of course, I asked about it. This is when I found how just how abusive my grandfather could be. He had thrown her down a flight of steps and broken her arm when drunk. The doctor he brought to the house, was a “friend”, also an alcoholic and apparently was drunk at the time. He set her arm wrong and it healed that way. It was at this time that he moved out as well.
It was only after I was even older, maybe 16 and spending a weekend with her, that I thought as I watched her mix up some cookie dough, that the healing of her arm must have been painful and that my grandfather called his “friend” to fix her arm to cover up a crime. To take her to the hospital that was just kitty corner from where they lived would have been faster than his going to get the “friend”. I’m sure that even in the 1950’s she could have pressed assault charges on him. He was a big man by that time. Tipping the scales at 300 pounds and my tiny grandmother a possible 100 pounds.
My mom was the first of her siblings to get married, so I was the first grandchild. We lived in an apartment upstairs of my Grandma. I spent the first six years of my life running downstairs to her apartment where she lived with two of my aunts. With the rest of the family in and out all the time.
It was during this time, that my Grandma influenced me most, although I can honestly say, that she influenced me all my life up until she passed in 1991. She worked at St. Teresa’s College, in Winona, Minnesota, as a switchboard operator by then. It was a female college of fine arts. She would take me there to see plays, concerts and various other types of performances. It is here that I learned about world culture as it attracted students from all over the world. In fact, the day my sister was born, I spent the entire day on campus being passed from student to student while Grandma worked.
Grandma would invite people from the college over to her house so I would also frequently be present at those gatherings as well. Her youngest daughter graduated from St. Teresa’s because she could attend tuition free due to Grandma being an employee there. (It was planned that I would attend there too when old enough. When the time came, the college was in budgetary crisis and free tuitions were no longer offered.) Diversity was all around me.
Grandma’s politics naturally were to the left. Again, I learned my lessons at her knee. She adored John F. Kennedy and I’m telling you now, would have fell victim to Bill Clinton’s charisma. When Jimmy Carter arrived in Winona on August 18th, 1979, on the Delta Queen, I drove Grandma down to the levee so she could see him. Her most prized possession was a signed letter by him thanking her for her letter to him. It was signed too, not one of those stamped letters they send out now.
She followed politics avidly. She was a feminist without knowing she was one. If you’d have told her she was, I think she might have been offended. She was also, a man’s woman. You know the kind. Was always more at home with men, they gravitated to her as well. Up until the day she passed.
Yes, my grandmother was a groundbreaker. Strong, resilient and faced adversity stoically without saying a word. There were tradeoffs which goes without saying. As any working mother will say. She would say that was the way it was. Grandma wasn’t one to live in the past much.
I could write about her all day. In writing about her this morning, I’ve discovered, that it is her that I “take after”, more so than my mom. So, this year, thank you Mom, I love and miss you … and a special thank you Grandma, who I love and miss. You both have made me who I am.
Wild Thing ©May 14, 2017