Historical Reference

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This is a picture of me with my great grandmother. I loved her.

She died age 93 on my 9th birthday.

Her nickname was “Tiny”. She chewed tobacco but I did not realize it until years later. She kept a spit can under her bed and had this black ring around her mouth that left a nasty aftertaste when she kissed you. Blech.

We thought she was crazy!

She lived in a house that was as ancient as she was and we loved to sneak upstairs when she wasn’t looking. We would raid the shelves of old fashion magazines and books, going through bureau drawers and closets. We found amazing stuff!

She would wander the house in a threadbare house coat that was so thin, you could see her 90 year old nipples showing through. I thought she was beautiful!

She always complemented me on my hair and would ask to brush it. I would sit in her lap as she brushed stroke after stroke after stroke, back when my hair was long enough to reached my waste. She was the first person to make me feel beautiful.

I have pictures of her up on the walls in my clinic. She was extremely poor and one picture features her with her mom, a sister, and a brother. Her brother is wearing a hand me down dress and they are standing outside of their home, a tumbledown one room shack. Her brother died very young from appendicitis. Another picture has her standing solemnly outside a dugout. She even lived for a few years in a tent with her young children.

My grandfather had a scholarship to a local college to study chemistry, but he could not afford the bus fair. He dropped out after two semesters, found a job, and bought her a washing machine with his first paycheck. He was so proud telling me about that, decades later. He never finished college.

I wish I has known her better before dementia set in. I would have loved to know how she managed to keep going in the face of so much adversity.

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34 thoughts on “Historical Reference

  1. This reminds of my own grandmother. She was Irish-Native and only thirteen when she married my grandfather who was well into his forties. They lived on a farm and my grandmother would hitch hike into town to buy groceries. I was her favourite grandchild but she died when I was four. They don’t make women like our grandmothers any more.

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  2. My grandmother immigrated to the US from Germany when she was a very young woman. She had a hard life and never saw her parents again. I have a soft spot in my heart for immigrants because it’s not easy. She never did speak English but she had 9 kids and my grandfather died young leaving her to support and raise them at a time when there were no social programs to help. She lived to be 75. We all loved her. I was the youngest grandchild. She died when I was 3 so I don’t have any memory of her. I only have one or two pictures of her. You are lucky to remember your grandmother.

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      • I don’t know. Physically suffering? Probably yes, but I also think that by that old age people have so many losses, so many shattered hopes. The world is created for the young people, I mean all the things and happenings, and the older you grow the less you belong, and in the end it is just you and no one else, and it is all the world you have. I don’t know, I just cry for them, don’t know exactly why.

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  3. It’s interesting that we see things so much differently when we’re older. I was going to say wiser. But the right world is disillusioned. Young people see the extraordinary in the mundane.

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  4. This was a beautiful insight – and an illuminating look at the past. These, our twice-removed ones, lived a less stressful life of the mind, more on the body. They found joy in simplicity and did not have the burden of being ‘on’ all of the time. They are amazing examples of the resiliency of the human spirit.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  5. OMG!!! I love grandmas! Mine is 81, and she’s a hoot! This post made me smile, and I’m going to call her now! Because although she calls and wakes me up at 8AM on the weekends (just to say hey), I’m so blessed to have her!

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