My grandmother was the type of person who has seen it all. She felt deep pain and grief and distress in her youth and immense joy, happiness, and yes worry and concern in her adulthood.   Her mother died giving birth to her and she and her older sister were fobbed off on a woman with her own biological children when their dad abandoned them.  That lady had enough problems and so sent my grandmother and great-aunt to an orphanage. And there she stayed, in the dust bowl area of the US during the great depression. Life was very bleak. Her older sister quickly learned that education was the way out and so she studied and encouraged my grandmother to study as often as she could. I know all of that from my great-aunt. And then there are holes, holes from when my great-aunt left for California to become a nurse and somehow, my grandma left the orphanage in her early teens and made it to a sleepy town in the middle of Missouri. She refused her whole life to talk about those years. Eventually she came to the attention of a woman my whole family affectionately referred to as Granny. A social worker and teacher, who took my grandmother in as a “work-as-you-go” boarder. The work was very light and easy though. Granny only ever required that because my grandmother wouldn’t take charity from anyone at that point.

She worked and studied at home. She never went to high school, but she learned all of her subjects from Granny. Granny introduced her to the “right sort” of teens in the community. Teens who were ahead of their time, not letting old backward prejudices influence them against befriending my grandmother, despite her background. And she flourished.

She started dating some of the boys in her neighborhood, casually-rarely going out more than a few times with the same boy. On one group date, a couple of banged up football players from the local college hopped on the side boards of the car she was in and jumped off at the hosptial for stitches. One of those young men asked around to find out who she was, and when t a promptly asked her for a date. She agreed. They went to the soda shop, went for a walk, got to know each other just a little bit. My grandfather left my grandmother at her doorstep and told a good friend of his “I’m going to marry that girl someday.” And so he did.

It certainly wasn’t always happy ever after. She still had to work hard through the many lean years they had. And I’m afraid that alzheimer’s hit her much earlier than any of us really like to admit to–so she probably only had a few years to enjoy the relative luxury that she lived in for latter part of her life.

She died just over five years ago now. And my grandfather just went with her.

She was a spectacular woman. Strong. Fiery. She didn’t put up with much crap. And she was hilarious. And loving. And resourceful. And she didn’t really care much what people thought–so when she rode the riding lawn mower by accident into the lake their house was next to, well… sometimes things go that way. She had a beautiful smile, striking eyes, and the vigor of youth well into her latter years. She was fair with her children, loved them, but didn’t affirm anything ridiculous.

I hope to be like her. More gracious. More loving. Stronger.  I loved her. And I honor her for showing me what a mother relationship should look like.