I'm back. Back to blogland. Back to the Internet. Back to work. Back to life. And yet, some days I'm still feeling like a sleepwalker. Someone who's observing, but not really participating. I think grief does that to you. It creates an insulating wall between you and the rest of the world. I guess that's why they say "numb with grief". It's not all the time, just in those quiet moments when I'm left alone and my mind invariably turns to thoughts of my grandma. Not the way she was near the end, but the way she was in my childhood, early adult years, and until about a year ago. She was feisty. I think that's the one word that sums her up. Others would of course be devoted, determined, and vibrant. Grandma was a feminist, long before feminism was popular. She'd had a hard life, but she was determined to make the best of it. Life gave her lemons, but by God she made some damn fine lemonade. She was a woman to admire and emulate. She was my hero. Way back in fifth grade we had to write a paper about our hero and mine was about grandma.
She was born in 1923 to a Scottish immigrant named Harold Macready and the daughter of German immigrants, Helen Charlotte Schaefer. A year later her mother died in childbirth and Harold had to leave baby Helen (named for her mother) with his wife's parents, August and Minnie Schaefer. They were farmers and were also raising her uncles. When Harold remarried, he came back for her, but August and Minnie refused to give her up. They legally adopted her. I don't know that she ever had much of a relationship with her father after that, but she did have several half sisters that she knew and spent some time with.
She grew up poor and used to hard work. She didn't have many playmates on the farm but she was close to her uncles and grandparents. She dropped out of school after 8th grade. In 1946 she was working for her aunt and uncle who owned a tavern when she met Clyde Graham. They began seeing each other and soon she realized she was pregnant. In 1946 there were few options for unwed mothers; illegal back alley abortions, having the child and being ostracized by everyone, or marrying the father. She ended up marrying even though she didn't want to. Clyde was an abusive alcoholic, who often drank most of his paycheck. They went on to have 7 live births, 1 stillbirth, and one miscarriage that necessitated an emergency hysterectomy. My grandma used to say she got pregnant every time my grandpa laid his pants across the bed. She raised four sons and three daughters on very little money but with a strict sense of right and wrong. She was very short at only 4'11", but she had a fiery temper when crossed.
My grandmother put up with my grandfather's abuse, alcoholism and affairs until her last son was in high school. Then she finally sought a divorce. I was 7 at the time. She got royally shafted in the divorce proceedings, but she didn't care, she just wanted out. After the divorce, she worked hard to get her GED and worked outside the home until she was no longer able to due to health reasons. She rode the bus, never having learned to drive. I offered to teach her once, but she declined, saying she'd made it this far in life without it, she figured she'd make it the rest of the time. She was not a bitter woman, though she had reason to be. She was always full of laughter and she loved a good prank, which is good, because my uncles were serious mischief makers! Often using masks and sneaky techniques to scare the crap out the grandchildren. She stayed close to my grandpa's parents even after the divorce. And shared our grief when great grandma passed and a year later great grandpa followed. She also grieved for my uncle's wife and then my uncle when he passed. We also lost my cousin and his wife several years ago to a car crash. But through it all, Grandma persevered. She was the heart of our family. She kept us coming together for Sunday dinners and holidays, until she was no longer physically able. She was my friend and confidante and I could always count on her for good advice.
When CJ was small and I was pregnant with Lu, if I got lonely, I could always find willing company at grandma's house. She was always proud of me, even when there was no reason to be. She encouraged me and supported me, and often took my side in disputes with my parents. My earliest memories are of grandma's house and grandma's lap. She took care of me when I was only tiny so my parents could both work. My mother says I used to cry when she came to pick me up because I didn't want to leave grandma's. I know I always cried when we would have to leave after visits, later when we'd moved. The four years I spent in England, I missed my Grandma terribly. But she was an amazing pen pal. She wrote me long detailed letters on beautiful stationary that somehow always smelled like her perfume. I lived with her for a year, my freshman year of college. I'm so grateful now to have had that time and those memories. Though looking back, I would spend even more time with her.
I know that I got my fiery temper from her, as well as my optimism. Grandma knew how to find the silver lining. She taught me how to grocery shop on a tight budget. She taught me to go after what I want with determination. It is from her I get my love of animals, she almost always had a canine companion. She taught me that hard work, sacrifice and determination pay off. She taught me that love is unconditional. And regardless of how hard life was, her hugs were sure to make it bearable. And her absence is like a huge gaping hole.
However, I will go on, with the lessons she taught me fresh in my mind. Because, if there is an afterlife, and Grandma had a firm faith that there was, I know that she is still watching and I want to make her proud.