She was born during the war that was to end all wars. And depending on one's definition of war, she lived through at least five more of them. She had her first child while her husband was in World War II. Her second came along while they lived in occupied Germany. Her third not long before he went to Korea.
War changes men. It changed him. Though she was still devoted to him, the handsome young college boy with the broad grin was gone. What was left behind was a man who was angry, bitter and resentful.
But she endured.
She grew up in the Roaring Twenties, though the twenties didn't really roar in Oklahoma. She watched her baby brother die from an illness that could be treated with a shot today; she kept a picture of him in her room for her entire life and still got emotional when she talked about him. She made it through the Great Depression, though it changed her life forever. Like so many people of that generation, she couldn't bear to throw things out. Her house was always a hodgepodge of old things, broken things, things most people would think of as trash, but for which she could always find a use.
She lived through the deaths of her husband, parents, brother, sisters, most of the people she knew as family growing up. But she never had to endure the death of a child, something she hated to even imagine. She never feared death, and although she grieved for those she lost, she knew there was a purpose and that they had gone to a better place. In her mind, she knew what would come after death and had made her peace with it. She saw it as a time when all questions would be answered, all things would be known. For a woman with a voracious appetite for knowledge, it would be paradise.
She never made it through college; it wasn't expected. In her day, women went there to meet their future husbands. Once that was arranged, what need was there to continue? But she read. Oh, how she read. Philosophy, religion, poetry, all the things that interested her. When her husband failed at business, she went to work. Still expected to care for her family, she essentially had two jobs. When her husband drove their first child away, she was the one to suffer. But she was always able to find solace in her books and her writing.
She was a poet, but she didn't publish her work. Was she not encouraged by her parents, husband, others? Had she been rejected at some point? Or was she, like I, just so bound by the fear of having someone laugh at something that was part of her soul? I don't know, but I did understand. I still do.
I didn't know her in her prime; I wish I had. When I was little, she was the old lady with false teeth and witch's hair who brought me sourdough bread whenever she visited. She was the one who sent me $5 on my birthday and $10 at Christmas even when I was in my twenties. She was the storyteller who would tell me about her life and recite poetry to me. And in her infirmity, she was the woman who would ask me to come lie in bed with her to tell her about my life and to recite poetry to her.
She was my grandma and I'm going to miss her.