This mother’s day I am thinking a lot of my maternal grandmother, Dorothy. She died a few years after my mother.
I didn’t see very much of my mother’s family growing up. I later learned that she separated herself from them because of the profound abuse she experienced in childhood. But I didn’t know this until after she died.
My grandmother did come to see me graduate from Northwestern. In an impulsive moment, I bought her a dozen pink roses to give to her when she got off the plane. She was really touched by this. She brought up several times in later years. “No one ever met me at the airport with roses,” she would say.
I have a feeling that flowers were a scarce commodity in my grandmother’s life. She was tough woman who had experienced a brutal life. She and her husband, my grandfather, settled in a very wild part of Colorado. Her first child died because they were unable to get a doctor to make the journey to where they lived.
My grandfather worked in the mines, and they were shockingly poor. I see pictures of their home, and it isn’t really a home at all, it’s a lean-to shack. Once, she and grandpa left her five children at home. When they came back there had been a fire, and my uncle had been severally burned.
She wasn’t sentimental, but furiously held onto objects. She wouldn’t throw anything away. She had drawers of empty perfume bottled. If a tv stopped working, she would just buy a smaller one to place on top of it.
But within the confines of her difficult life, she was a remarkable woman. She went to college, and then worked as a teacher at a time when woman didn’t do that. My aunt wrote out her autobiography. She left her husband on the farm, and took her children to live with her in the dormitory while she pursued her degree. Imagine that.
She later became a journalist, and worked well into her 70s. After her husband died, she traveled the world with her brother.
She had six kids, and outlived four of them, including my mother. I think that was the hardest on her.
I really regret that I didn’t get to know her better. Even though a relationship with her was discouraged growing up, as an adult I could have reached out more. I feel like a piece of my history has passed away.
I think a lot about families these days, and how ghosts are very real. I do believe that the dead haunt the living. They are never completely gone. They are never completely real. But like the thin gossamer shades of children’s stories, they are always just on the edge of our consciousness.