Sorry Mom. You were right. The haircut was not the best you ever had. We have to remember that cutting hair at all was a new thing in the 20’s — not a lot of professional training. But you were pretty. I know you never thought so, but I think you went through your life like I am. You hate a picture and twenty years later it starts looking pretty good.
This was taken approximately 1925 or 1926, your high school graduation picture. But you didn’t wear the cap and gown with your class. You received your diploma the following year because you had diphtheria that spring and one of your teachers wouldn’t let you make it up during the summer. You had to repeat and that had to hurt. It did hurt. You told me so.
You told me a lot of other things, too. For instance, life on the farm was hard work. A girl going to high school when she was needed to work on that farm was foolishness. Your parents made it clear you couldn’t live on the farm and expect to be carted back and forth to town every day. You had to find a place to live and earn your way through school on your own. So you took a position with the Suttons babysitting the kids when you weren’t attending class. The blessing was that you and the Suttons established a good and lifelong relationship. I remember being more than a little confused when we would visit them on our trips to the Soo and they weren’t relatives. It was way too far over my head to conceive of your having to live away from your family to go to high school. No buses. That was incomprehensible too. But graduate, you did.
Your talent was English and grammar. Do you think you should have taught? As it was, you insisted your daughters spoke the King’s English. “There’s a g on the end of that, young lady!” I’ll bet you thought about lost opportunities many, many times while you were single and raising two kids you didn’t exactly plan for, earning pittance at the feed store your dad ran in the depression. Neither did you plan on being a single mother, a much maligned position to be in in the 20’s and 30’s. I also understand the high cost of college, kids or no kids, when you had to work your way through high school as it was. You learned how to count pennies, make all the decisions, say no a lot, face down glances and stares, and earn respect one day at a time.
God led you back to a loving congregation for support, the same church where you had been baptized at 16 before you wandered off the reservation so to speak. It was in that congregation that a tall soldier with merry blue eyes spotted you and got up the nerve to walk you home from a New Year’s party after 8 months of sitting in the same Sunday school class. That wasn’t really nice of him to do that when you went to the party with Mr. Wilson. You were walking down the aisle to marry that soldier a month later Feb 3, 1943.
He took you to Cameron, Illinois in 1944. Reluctance is not the word. Under protest is a better fit. His widowed mother spoke and he couldn’t say no, so off you and Mary and Ralph went. He was shipped to New York, missed his overseas assignment again through a second twist of circumstances, an error overseen by one overworked guardian angel no doubt, and before he could be re-assigned, the war ended and he came home.
Having an 8th grade education, working as a farm hand, he did not whisk you off to a fine brick house. As it was, he was putting up siding on a house with no running water, uneven floors and a sagging roof in October while you were in the hospital with his second daughter, Margaret, so that you didn’t get snow through the cracks in the walls. He loved you more than air and was good to you and if I read your stories between the lines, as I observed you and dad smooching every chance you got, you were happy with him. Not all was rosy, but then, you couldn’t grow flowers anyway. You trimmed the garden in peppers for color.
How many loads of laundry did you put through the Maytag wringer, how many sheets and overalls did you carry wet across the lawn, how many tomatoes did you can in 90 degree humidity so we could eat through the winter and how many contests for the biggest tomato did you win against Iva Boyd? How many chickens did you pluck, how many cookies did you bake? We know about the fudge. You had to replace the marshmallow creme nearly every time you started a batch because we’d have found it and sampled it spoonful by spoonful, like we trimmed the cakes and the pies. They had to be even, you know.
You joined the Rebeccas, the auxiliary of the Oddfellows Lodge, as well as worked in the church. You were not a coffee fan, yet you were the unchallenged champion of the church coffee maker that looked like something off a submarine. You headed up VBS, a two week project every time, and were the longest running women’s circle president before you fairly shoved the gavel into whoever’s hand. And you made true quilts, hand stitched quilts, stitches that followed the pieces instead of these machine versions they call quilts today. They would put the new quilter on the frame block next to you to learn how to stitch properly.
You turned 100 this year, didn’t you, woman? (We got away with calling her “woman” when we were older, but she would have cuffed our ears before she was ready for it.) You didn’t want attention drawn to being 80, but where you are, 100 is of no concern. Hmm, 100. That’s almost to the end, isn’t it? (cuff)
I have pictures. I have your stories in my head and I’m writing them down. I will introduce you to children you didn’t meet. I’ll leave out the parts I know you want to stay out. I’ll share your heart. I am proud to be Nanny after you. And yes, I will remember the g on the end of the ing.