A Story by JustMe

Depictions of Courage

Like all people, I've occasionally had some rough roads in life. Like most people, I've considered the plight of others when looking for inspiration while dealing with the potholes of life. I've never had to look very far. I had two very wonderful Grandmas � my Grandma Yine and my Grandma Hegi. They were very different, although they both had a lot of bumps in the road of life.
Grandma Yine was born in Illinois. Her grandparents had moved there in the second half of the 1860's from North Carolina � right after the Civil War. Her father was the youngest of eleven children, nine boys and two girls. He was especially beloved by his oldest sister, who was the first-born. The two of them even married siblings, so Grandma Yine had "double cousins." Some time after Grandma was born, but while she was still a young girl, her father homesteaded land in the Dakotas. My Daddy used to tell me that she had told him stories about sledding down the barn roof, since there were no hills and the snow would pile up deep enough to be able to walk right up to the roof. They lost their farm during the depression, when Grandma's brother got very sick and they owed lots of money for medical bills. After that, they moved to Wisconsin, and Grandma's father worked as a hired farmhand.
Grandma was a young lady by that time. She had finished eighth grade at the one-room country school, and wanted to go on to High School as she was a good student. The problem was, in those days, you had to live in town to go to High School. Her parents couldn't afford to pay room and board for her to stay with someone in town, so she did not get to go to High School. She did always value education, though. I'd like to think she would be proud of me for my Master's Degree. Then, when she was in her late teens, her personal disaster struck. She discovered that she was pregnant. This was a couple of years into the depression, so single women just did not have babies. She did though, and she kept him. I am personally very thankful for my Daddy, but I also appreciate the sacrifice that my Grandma Yine made in terms of her reputation, her future, and even her religion. See, in those days, a woman lost her social standing, her good reputation, and even her church membership over an illegitimate pregnancy. It was proof of sin. I've often wondered what the man involved lost, but that has never been a question I've explored other than in my mind. Grandma Yine had to find a way to help support herself and my Daddy, which she did. It meant that she often had to be separated from my Daddy for a week at a time, as she worked as a maid for room and board and only got to come home to her parents' house on weekends. Her parents kept my Daddy and loved him and raised him for her. I am so grateful to them for raising him to be the wonderful person that he was, too.
Eventually, Grandma Yine did meet someone that she was interested in marrying. It wasn't the man my Daddy would have chosen, but it wasn't his choice, and Grandma Yine had her reasons. I know very little about her marriage � to a child, those things aren't obvious or important. I do remember that she seemed busy and happy and she always wore a flowered apron as she puttered around her bright, cheery kitchen. She had several aprons that she kept in a drawer with her dish towels. She was pretty, with dark brown, curly hair and freckles all over her skin. I remember being happy when I first began to get freckles on my arms in my late twenties, because I thought my Grandma Yine's were so pretty. She also kept candy in an empty coffee can on a bottom shelf at her house, so it was available for little kids. She used to put chocolate chips in small plastic cups for my brothers and me. These are the things that endear a Grandma to little kids, of course. I had no opportunity to know my Grandma Yine as anything but a little kid, as she developed cancer when I was about four years old. She had surgery, but the cancer came back and spread. She lived about another year, with periods in the hospital, and periods at home. I remember my Daddy sneaking us kids into the hospital (we were too young to be allowed) to bring her fresh-picked wild black raspberries. They were one of her favorites. When she was home, she worked at getting her life in order to die. She used to go get my younger brother, just to spend as much time with him as possible. I was in school already, and missed out on that opportunity. As small as I was, I intuitively understood her courageousness and her steadfastness in the face of the inevitable. Perhaps it was because she had already learned those lessons already in another form. When she finally lost the battle with cancer, I didn't grieve. I had been living with the knowledge that Grandma Yine was going to die for a while. It wasn't a shock or a surprise. I remember her funeral - how beautiful the church and the casket and the service were. Like her. She would have liked it.
I don't have much family background for my Grandma Hegi. She was an immigrant. She came here in 1917. She was 16 years old, and she came over from Europe on a ship, all alone. She didn't even speak English. Her ship came down the Saint Lawrence Seaway and docked at Chicago, so she didn't come through Ellis Island, but she still had to find employment, a place to live, and generally everything else that she needed to survive. She had to do all this alone, at 16 years old, in a country where she knew no one and couldn't even speak the language. Of course she did it, and well. As a matter of fact, she sent money home so her siblings could come to America, and eventually even her parents came to America. She came first, though. Everyone else had someone to come to � someone to show them the ropes.
I am the oldest child of her eighth and youngest child. For some reason, I was her favorite grandchild. I have no idea how I acquired that designation, since there were 21 others, including a set of twins. She told my Mom that it was my blonde hair. I think it was my personality. See, even as a baby, I hated to stay home. My Mom claimed that I fussed and squalled every day until she packed me up and took me for a car ride. She said as soon as I was in the car and it was moving, I became quite contented, all smiles, and even hummed along with the motor. Well, since Mom was on a very limited budget and had no particular place to go, we visited Grandma Hegi nearly every day until my Mom went back to work. I remember that she used to bake me individual child-sized pies, which I adored. I have a vague memory of going to her house from kindergarten one day when I was sick and Mom was working. I remember how much I loved her.
When I was six, Grandma Hegi was struck by tragedy. She had a stroke that was seriously debilitating, and she could no longer live alone. She went to live in a nursing home, and it was a very difficult life change for her. My Mom used to take us to visit her about once a month. Her nursing home room was boring � much like a hospital room � and I didn't even have to live there. There was no privacy, either. Her roommate was blind, but not truly disabled at all. They had a hospital curtain that could be pulled between their beds, but that was it. I remember one chair in Grandma's part of the room, and a couple of folding chairs. It was ugly. I had learned to write some, since I was in first grade, and I used to write letters to my Grandma Hegi that my Mom would mail for me. I would write and tell her about all of the things that were going on in my life � about the new kittens in the barn, or the new calf that was born; all of the things that are exciting in a child's life. When we visited her, she would have them posted on her cork board. I would be so proud, and it certainly didn't hurt my writing skills.
When I was eight, I came home from school one day to find my Dad waiting for me on the front porch. He said he had some bad news to tell us. Grandma Hegi had had another stroke. I was devastated and began to cry. Daddy asked me why I was crying and I said that she was the last Grandma I had left and now I wasn't going to have one anymore. He hugged me and cuddled me and said that just because she was sick didn't mean she was going to die, but we both knew better. She died two days later. I never cried at her funeral. It was too late, anyway.

© 2009 JustMe

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Added on June 28, 2009



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A Story by JustMe