What is a Normal Family Life?
My Brother and Me
Grandma and Me
Working on Grandpa's Farm
My Brother in the Pacific
What is a normal childhood? Or a normal family life? Those are questions I have asked myself many times over my 83 years, and still am not sure I know the answers. My childhood was anything but normal, but I sincerely hope that I have succeeded in giving that to my children in our lively family of five boys and two girls. I suppose "normal" can be boring, but it also can be very comforting.
When I was four years old, my father died. Since my mother had to find a way to make a living, my eight-year old brother and I were sent to live with her parents. My grandparents lived on a small farm in central Iowa and they had eight children, including my mother. There were only three of their children still living at home on the farm--a girl who was nine years old and a boy of eleven, and another girl of fifteen. Of course, you would think they would soon seem like my brother and sisters, but they never did. It wasn't that we didn't get along, but it was just different. They were my aunts and uncle! I'm sure they felt "put upon" by the addition of my brother and me to their family. They never made me feel that way, but it must have been difficult, with everybody feeling sorry for two little ones who had just lost their father, and basically their mother, too. Also, with the times being hard, it meant there was less for them.
Since this was back in 1933, family life was extremely different than it is now. Living on a farm in Iowa during the Great Depression was a hard life for the parents/grandparents, but not for me. Over the years I had my "chores" and did them without question. That's just the way it was--everybody did their part, no matter how little. If there was not enough money, I never knew it. We always had plenty to eat because living on a farm we had a huge garden, apple trees, cherry trees, strawberries, chickens and eggs, pigs, cows and milk. There were usually family gatherings on Sunday as several of grandma and grandpa's married children lived close by. Lots of food and lots of fun.
One advantage my brother, uncle and aunts had when I was living there, if they wanted anything they just made me ask grandpa and he would give in to his "little princess." No doubt he felt sorry for me because of my father dying and he was trying to compensate in his own way. (Don't get me wrong, though, he could be a tough old codger.) Back in those days, our small town had movies in the town hall during the summer and we were always allowed to go to them. Also, every small town in the area had a summer carnival and grandma and grandpa enjoyed going to them as much as we children did. It was one way for them to get away from the hard work on the farm and relax in the company of their friends and neighbors.
As days and years went by, my aunt and uncle graduated from high school and either went away to school or found a job in the big city. That left me and my brother. When he graduated from high school, World War II had started and he volunteered for the army air force, which left me alone with grandma and grandpa. Grandma never had much time for me as she was always working hard trying to get all the work done. Eventually I was old enough to help her with some of the work, but most of the time I was out in the grove playing by myself or reading a book.
When I was 15 years old, someone decided it was time for me to live with my mother. No one ever asked me if I wanted to, or even told me why I was going with her. We moved to a larger city, where I attended a Catholic girls' school. Fifteen is a hard age to move from a farm and a small town school, to a large city and much larger school. But things went well for me and the girls at that school were most welcoming. However, we only lived there for about four months when my grandma became seriously ill with a brain tumor and my mother and I moved back so she could take care of grandma. I was sent to a Catholic girls' boarding school in a nearby town and came home on the weekend.
During World War II, when my brother joined the Air Force, he wanted to be an airplane pilot but so did most of the other young men joining up. He ended up training to be a nose gunner on a B24 and eventually he was sent to the Pacific Theater of war. Early one morning, he and his crew were rousted out of bed and ordered out on a search and rescue mission for the famous Michigan football player, Tom Harmon, who was forced to parachute out of his plane in a tropical storm over a South American jungle. There were over 30 planes sent out to search and none of the planes were successful in finding Tom Harmon. Eventually he stumbled into a clearing in Dutch New Guiana. Of the 30 planes sent out on the search mssion, my brother's plane was the only one that did not make it back to base. There were only two survivors of the crew of ten and my brother was not one of them. His body was never recovered and is still on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
My grandpa and one of my aunts came to the school I attended to tell me about my brother being lost at sea. I was taking a shorthand/typing test when I was summoned to the principal's office. Well, as you can imagine, all the other girls thought surely I was in big trouble. In those days if you were summoned to see the principal, you must have done something really terrible!
About four months after my brother was lost, my grandma died and my mother and I moved to the town where I was attending school. Now, I didn't have to board at school anymore because we lived right across the street. I was a senior in high school and it was the happiest year of my life. After graduating as valedictorian of my class, I obtained a job as a receptionist/secretary for a gentleman who ran a farm manager company. My mother was so surprised that I found a job that easily and the amount of money I was paid. The salary was only $18.75/week, but she thought that was wonderful. After two years, I advanced to $25/week. (Now I make $12 an hour at my part time job!) Times have really changed.
While I was working, I met my husband and we were married in 1948. Our family grew to be five boys and two girls, with the five boys being born first. So we had to keep trying for a girl. When our first girl was born, her brothers adored her. For the first twenty years of our married life, we lived on farms in Iowa and Minnesota. Then we moved to a small city in central Iowa and have lived in the area ever since. Except for two of our children who stayed in Iowa, our family is scattered around to Minnesota, Wisconsin and California.
Once again tragedy struck our family as our second oldest boy was burned terribly in a fire in his condo. (He had just divorced and was living by himself.) The doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals recommended we take him off life support. After much discussion among the family, that is what we did. Predictably, I still wonder if we did the right thing. We just have to trust in God that we did.
This is just a short version of my 83 years of life, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this Hub, I keep wondering what a normal life is. What would have happened if my father had not died when I was little and my brother and I would have lived with our mother and father? Our whole lives would have been so different. No doubt I would never have met my wonderful husband, or had our outstanding children. Only God knows that. There have been many highs and lows, but more highs I do believe. My grandparents brought me up strong in our faith and that has sustained me through the years.
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