Today would have been my grandmother's 100th birthday. I could write a novel about her, in fact there's so much I'd like to say about her that I don't know where to start.
She was born on July 3rd, 1911. 7 years later, her father died in the great influenza epidemic of 1918. He left her mother with 7 young blue-eyed children to raise alone. She did a good job. My grandmother met my grandfather when she was young, he was 4 years older. His father had also died when he was little, just 4 years old. They fell in love, got married near Thanksgiving one year, but were worried about telling his older brother. So she went back home to her house and he went back to his family's large farm. They didn't tell anybody they were married until Christmas. Their first child, a son, was born at home in the middle of the Great Depression. There was a problem with his oxygen and he suffered brain damage that affected him for the rest of his life. My grandparents went on to have 5 more children. I consider that the definition of bravery. They had 3 sons, then there was a gap of 6 years, then they had 3 more children. This is how I ended up with aunts and uncles who have always been like big sisters and brother to me.
They didn't have a lot of money (who did during those times?) and they raised their children on the farm that had been in her husband's family since around the time this nation became a nation. They raised cotton, then soybeans, and always had a large garden. My grandmother was a master cook. Her fried chicken was legend in our family - partly because it was the freshest ever and had been running around the yard earlier in the day. She cut it up herself, always with the special wishbone breast piece that was my grandfather's favorite. None of us dared to reach out for that piece of chicken, that's for sure. She made the best homemade biscuits ever - in a wooden trough-shaped bowl. She could make them with one hand while she did all kinds of things with her other hand. Those biscuits were light as a feather. She made freezer junket ice cream, shelled peas on the front porch, made clothes for me (the only grand daughter), and sent us children out in the fields with mason jars full of ice water for my grandfather, who was plowing with his mule Mandy. Every summer for 2 weeks, my brother Randy and I got to go to our grandparents' farm without our parents. We lived for those 2 weeks - I imagine our parents did, too. We had city grandparents and country grandparents. We could see our city grandparents' house from our house and we loved to spend time with them, too. But something about those 2 weeks in the country, probably that we were 2 hours from home, was extra special. We fed chickens, we fed the hogs, we climbed the trees in the apple orchard and ate apples that never made it 5 feet from the tree. We helped (kinda) in the garden, we hung out on the wrap around porch every evening, trying to catch a breeze, waiting for the ghosts that would almost always come around the corner and disappear into the fields (this is an entirely different post), and in the afternoons we waited impatiently on the porch swing for our aunt Beth to come down the road in her Ford Mustang from work. It wasn't a classic then, it was just a really cool car.
When it came time to choose my college, I chose Anderson College, in large part because I had learned to love that part of the state. My fellow dorm mates were jealous when I would go to my grandparents every Tuesday for a homemade meal and to wash my clothes without having to fight for a dryer. My grandfather would come outside and watch me wash my car - always pointing out when I missed a spot. I cherish those memories now.
My grandfather died on my 23rd birthday. We all gathered around my grandmother, trying to shelter her from grief - an impossible task. In the months after he died, she told me, "I love you children, but it's just not the same without your grandfather." I remember thinking, 'aren't we enough?' but now that I've been married for 20 years, I better understand what she was saying. My grandmother died in 1985, from ovarian cancer. She died 4 years before I met my husband, and 7 years before my first child was born. I hate that they didn't have a chance to know her. She was something else. You will never read about her in a history book, I never saw her in a suit with a briefcase heading to her high powered job. But make no mistake, women like my grandmother are the backbone of this country. Her job WAS high powered and she was quite excellent at it.