Today is my paternal grandmother’s birthday. If she had lived she would be 123 years old today. It is amazing to think about all she was dealt in her short life and how much she accomplished. I am not sure she ever saw it that way. As a child I can remember her telling me that her birthstone was an opal and how it is a sign of bad luck. She was very pragmatic.
She was only sixteen when her mother died from tuberculosis. Her father was either run out of town or abandoned his family years prior to her mother’s death. Being the oldest daughter, this shifted a great deal of responsibility to her. She married my grandfather (a man 17 years her senior) the year after her mother died 5 months shy of her 17th birthday.
Census records show she and my grandfather took in the younger siblings after they were married. Her brother would live with them for many years to follow.
She became a licensed practical nurse and moved with my grandfather as he traveled from city to city while working as a mechanic or an engineer for the railroad. She often took in boarders to help pay the bills. I was able to find an ad she placed in the newspaper when they lived in Elizabethton, TN. She also worked as a private nurse for families who cared for their ill relatives at home before institutional nursing homes were widely available.
My grandmother would be 23 when women were given the right to vote, which would make her among the first women to ever get to cast a ballot in this country. I find that inspiring especially given the state of our country and the threat to women’s rights.
My siblings and I lived with my grandparents for a while when they left Virginia to look for work. That cannot have been easy taking care of four grandchildren as she would have been in her late fifties/early 60’s.
She would have seen so many changes in her life. She always seemed so serious to me, but she loved us fiercely. When I think back, I am in awe of how well she managed to keep her life together. I think she was a lot stronger than I ever gave her credit for.