Coffee with Mimi: Unexpected circumstances make family memories

Published 11:15 am Sunday, August 15, 2021

Both my grandfathers lived long and productive lives. In some ways they were quite different. Though they were very nearly the same age, each had followed a path that reflected the changing times of the 20th Century.

One farmed on the farm which had been in the family for generations. It was a working, income producing farm. His father lived and worked the farm before him and continued to live with my grandfather and his family until he died.

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Though my uncles pursued careers outside farming, the farm remains in the family. At least three living generations attached to the land still reside in the geographic area.

The other grandfather sold insurance and lived in a city. He hadn’t started out to raise his family in the city.  He had grown up in a small town, but watched the migration of people and jobs away from that small town, as well as many others, and decided the best environment to offer opportunities for his growing family was not in a small town.

He hoped for a future which included a brood of children and grandchildren each seeking their own interests but living close by. All but one of his children eventually left the city. The family home was sold and the land gobbled up by city expansion.

In many ways they had much in common. Both raised families which valued education and their children were expected to apply themselves in school and other activities as they were growing up. They did. And, if I may be so bold, the next generation on both sides has done right well for themselves by any measure.

Each grandfather had, sadly, experienced the loss of a wife well before the end of his own years. But happily, each found a partner who brought contentment to his life in those retirement years.

Please don’t think me irreverent, but I have to relate that in each of these twilight year marriages, there are some quirky little stories which have become part of the family treasure.

The first involves my paternal grandfather. I always remember Granddaddy as a fairly self-contained, quiet, reserved man. The family household must have been chaotic as there were eight children all crammed into a house that was originally one bedroom and one bathroom. At some point along the way in its architectural life, the second floor had been fitted out into two bedrooms, one on either side of the most treacherous stairway ever to be utilized in a building, never mind one that was living space for four girls and four boys.

Every time I had to go up and down those stairs as a kid, when we went for summer vacation, I was terrified. I can’t imagine girls in the 1950’s wearing foot gear managing those stairs daily without breaking bones, dashing to school, and work, and dates. There were also four boys running up and down to school and work and dates….

So, there was my calm grandfather living with all that swirling around him. What a peaceful existence it must have been when it was just the two of them, finally, all on one floor. With a quiet bedroom next to the bathroom.

How lonely it must have been when my grandmother died. We were so happy when Grandaddy decided to remarry. To a woman he had known virtually all his life. The widow of his wife’s brother. Aunt Dorothy, as we already knew her, was a quiet, reserved woman.

They married in a private ceremony officiated by my uncle, and drove to our house to spend a few days.  Our house was chaotic, four young children, one of which was in the hospital, and a piglet delivered and left by a generous friend while my parents were at the hospital.

You would think the man would have wanted a quiet, peaceful start to married life…

My other grandfather also decided to remarry after the loss of my grandmother. We were happy for him, though we played no role in the occasion. The lady he married was the widow of a cousin. How she became our “step grandmother” was quite a story.

As a young bride she had moved to California. After a number of years, her husband, the cousin, became ill. He knew he was quite ill and expressed his desire to absolutely not pass out of this world while still in California. His obliging wife arranged a comfortable space in the back of a car, hired a driver, and they proceeded across the country to the homeland.

Approaching the final destination, there was some discussion as to the correct route. It had been years since she had been home, the driver had never been there, and the cousin was not doing too well. There was a good bit of anxiety as to the timely completion of this journey. At just the right moment, the cousin called out, “It’s Highway 39.”

It was. They crossed over into the home state and he died in the back seat having gotten his final wish.

Etta married my grandfather. She told the story much better.