Understanding Where I come from
Knowing where you come from is essential in forming the direction your life will take. I know that I am quite fortunate that I was able to spend a great deal of time with my grandparents while I was growing up. As a woman, I have been reflecting on the life experience of both my grandmothers. They were VERY different women, but had the same incredible strength that carried them through their years and laid down a foundation that those they left behind still stand upon today.
My maternal grandmother was born over 100 years ago. She was the only girl in a family of four children. In those days her only education should have been to care for her home and her family. But it was not. She was very intelligent. A book in her hands at all times, one of her favorite hobbies was to mark words in the dictionary that she could use during her life. She would indeed utilize that intelligence as she graduated high school, a rare feat in the 1920s for women. She not only graduated high school, she was granted a college scholarship. She dreamed of teaching children who did not speak English. She was offered a teaching job in Chinatown, New York City. Her favorite book was Anna and the King of Siam because Anna did what she wanted to do.
She did not go to college or take that teaching job because she met and married my grandfather, who was a gem and I do not believe she ever regretted that decision. She was never cut out to be the stay at home mom, however, cooking, cleaning and raising the children was fine and she was good at it, but it was never enough. She did not like being home alone with the baby all of the time. I have felt better about myself these days because I do not like it either, I also love the stimulation of going out in the world to work even if it is part time.
She became a librarian and worked close to home and later took that ferry daily to the city to work in a large company. That still was not enough as she was the editor of the senior citizen newspaper, chaired all sorts of church functions, was a grand matron of the Eastern Star. My mother followed in her footsteps by always being the PTA president of whatever school we attended. When my grandmother died, the funeral parlor had to open early to accomodate the amount of people who were lined up to pay their respects. She touched many people. She always looked her best, she dressed beautifully everyday, wearing makeup and fixing her hair. She faced hardships as my grandfather lost his job, went through the depression, had ups and downs, having to move out their home so a highway could be built, watching her parents suffer terribly through cancer and eventually meeting that fate herself. The strength was unwaivering. I try to remember this when I feel weak.
I can also turn to the memory of paternal grandmother. She did not have the advantage of a fine home where her father owned his own business like my maternal grandmother. She came from severe hardship. The third child of 6, she had seen two of her siblings die before her father died during an accident while she was a young girl. Already employed from the time she left eighth grade to take the seamstress position her father had found for her, she was faced with helping her mother take care of her family. The youngest child was 18 months old when my great grandfather died. Today's young people are not equipped to do what she did. She held her head high and went to work. Her mother sold silk flowers to try to earn money, but was very depressed at the loss of her husband. Grandma made sure her younger siblings were able to have a good holiday by finding and refinishing two small chairs she found. She did not worry about what she got, she never did.
As we were growing up, we would watch her work relentlessly in her yard, growing tomatoes and other vegetables. She had a pear tree and a fig tree among other plants. She would make wonderful tomato sauce, filled with meats, homemade meatballs over pasta was a favorite meal of all. Her pizza dough was the best I ever tasted and she made it herself, not with a machine, but her hands. If anyone was in need, she would think nothing of taking out of her pocket, out of her own mouth basically to give to someone else. She would save money when the salary my grandfather brought home was so meager, we still can't figure out how she did it. But she did, and had enough money to care for her family and leave money for them when she departed the world. Like her mother, she was a young widow. She was devastated by the loss of her husband, but managed to pick herself up for her family.
She did not succumb to cancer as my maternal grandmother, but to Alzheimers disease. It was very sad to see such a strong woman, taken apart by this disease over such a long period of time. But true to form, she fought it, by trying to do all that she was used to doing. Cooking, cleaning, gardening, seeing her family and going to church until she simply could not do it anymore. She once made over 500 meatballs to benefit a school function, there was no task too great.
These two women were so different. Even in appearance. One woman would primp and never leave the house without looking "just so". The other would not worry about it and barely put on lipstick. One was educated not only by the world, but by schooling and books. The other was educated by experience and tough times. Two so far apart, but yet so close together. They were both so strong. They fought hard, they worked for good, they loved their familes, worshipped their lord and went to him by struggling with difficult illnesses.
I consider myself extremely fortunate that I do not have to open a book or watch a movie to learn about strength. I simply have to look into my past, into what makes me who I am. Two incredible women.