Wednesday, August 17, 2011

90 Years is a long time.

A long time to live, laugh, love, grieve, work, and then live, laugh, love, grieve, and work some more.

My grandmother passed away in the early hours this morning. Along the 90 year path she traveled, she enjoyed the three brothers her father and mother had given her, and then numerous half-brothers, and one half-sister which came along quite a bit later. She had five handsome sons, and her list of grand-children, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren is seemingly endless. But as with any life, it comes with it's share of heartache. Her mother died when she was only 8. Several of her half-brothers died in infancy. The youngest of her brothers by her mother was killed in Vietnam, and another of her full-brothers passed away when I was in my teens. Several more of her half-brothers have also passed away in the last few years. Her older brother, and a couple of her half-siblings are the only siblings to have survived her. She has out-lived nearly all of her childhood friends and stood by one of her sons as he buried one of his daughters (her 2nd grandchild), who was only 36 at the time. But far and away the worst grief she ever expirenced was the death of one of her own children. Her oldest son died of pneumonia when he was only three. At the time, my uncle was around 18 months old and she was about to give birth to my dad. I can't even fathom what that time must have been like for her.

My grandmother was an extremely hard worker. Because of my grandfather's alcoholism, and my grandparent's subsequent divorce, care of my father and his brothers fell squarely on her shoulders. She worked third shift for years and years because it paid fifty cents more an hour, and she needed every penny she could get in order to provide for her and her sons. Her independence helped her greatly when she was younger, and had to support her children on her own, but it did make it difficult for her to adjust when she became frail and really needed help from others.

She started working in textile mills in 1934, at the ripe old age of 14. She had decided she was grown, moved out of her grandmother's house (where she had lived much of her life after her mother's death), and got a job. She passed for older than her true age, and they weren't too particular about labor laws in those days. The person in charge of hiring didn't ask her age, so she didn't tell. Later, when a supervisor suspected and did ask, she was just told not to spread that information around too much. She retired in 1985 after working for 51 years.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are from family dinners spent at my grandmother's little duplex. There were always way more of us than there ever should have been in such a small place, but we enjoyed every minute. It had to be freezing outside to keep us from spilling out onto either the front or back porch. She had a magnificent, climbing, yellow rose growing up a trellis that formed a living screen for the front porch and there was a lovely weeping willow in the front yard. She always had a vegetable garden in the back half of her half of the yard, and we'd play games on the concrete steps leading down from her back porch. There was a tall hedge between her and the church next door that was overrun with honeysuckle, from which we would drink nectar each summer. She had an old vanity in her bedroom where she would let us sit and play dress-up. Okay, maybe all of us grandchildren didn't share in that experience. I'm pretty sure my brothers didn't. My cousins, all of which were girls until I was 13, and I would spend the night and take turns brushing each others' hair. We'd laugh and joke, I'm sure being quite silly, and grandma would get all cracked-up. We'd have her laughing so hard she couldn't breathe. It was hilarious.

My grandmother loved flowers. Two of her favorites were yellow roses and African violets. They are certainly the two I associate with her. She had that gorgeous rose outside her house, and she always seemed to have some of the most beautiful African violets inside. I was determined to get an arrangement for her with African violets in them and was extremely dissapointed to find that they apparently aren't very popular this time of year. With hubby's help, I finally found a small shop that had a few still in bloom and after picking up a planter and some filler plants, I made my own African violet arrangement.

I think she would have loved it.
She would have liked the purple monkey behind it too, but we probably won't take that to the funeral home.
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  1. Becky, hugs to you on the loss of this beloved Grandmother xo I had goosebumps reading about her life. Having lost my first son, I know for certain that it was her greatest grief though it seems she had many. When I read about how you grandkids "cracked her up" I thought, "I hope that is how my grandies will remember me." :-)
    The arrangement is perfect.