Yesterday was my grandmother’s birthday. In February, she passed away due to complications from an emergency surgery. I was going to post something yesterday, but I didn’t really know what to say. Aside from a few obvious-if-vague Facebook references and conversations with friends and family, I haven’t actually talked about my grandmother much. I wasn’t ready. Maybe I’m still not ready to deal with the loss of her, but she deserves something to be said about her on her birthday.
I have to state first that my grandmother was an amazing woman. In her nearly-83 years, she married the love of her life, raised six kids, saw more than her share of wars, tragedies, and “you’ll-never-forget-where-you-were-when” events. My mother told me stories about Gram as a little girl, hiding with her mother in a room blacked-out by dark green shades while they ran drills in World War II. She lived through two eras of Civil Rights activism. You know what? As awesome as all of that is, she was always focused on her family.
Still, I don’t want to talk about the things that happened in the background while she was alive. Historically, it’s all great stuff, but it wasn’t her. I also don’t want to talk about her passing, either. It shouldn’t be her death that leaves the mark, but her life, right? So, I’m going to tell you a love story.
In my hometown, where my grandparents grew up, there was a foundry. Dozens of six-family row houses spilled out from the far end of the foundry, clustered in letter-named streets and blocks. It was a small neighborhood built to house the foundry workers and their families. It would have been 1946, I think, when my grandfather saw my grandmother for the first time. They were fourteen, and he was on the side of the road, digging ditches–a kid working to put food on the table for his family, like so many did before they cracked down on child labor. My grandmother road her bike past the boys digging ditches, and that was all it took.
My grandfather turned to his buddy and pointed to her as she road by. “I’m going to marry that girl,” he said.
True to his word, they started dating. It was rocky. My grandmother was Dutch Protestant and my grandfather was French Catholic. You can probably imagine the tension. Being about six months older, my grandmother turned 18 first, and my grandfather proposed. Life at home was hard for him, and it wasn’t made easier by being with my grandmother.
They made their trek to Keene, NH, where my grandfather lied about his age and they were married by a Justice of the Peace. It was a journey filled with cold, rain, and mud in the middle of February. My grandmother’s wedding ring cost 69 cents and she wore it until she passed. After my grandfather passed away in 1999, she talked to him every day. I think the biggest comfort for my mother and her siblings is that they’re together again.
My grandmother’s ashes were laid to rest beside my grandfather’s last weekend in southern Maine.