Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Madness Monday - August 10, 2009

Mary was born on June 3rd 1897. She was one of the younger children in her family [there were ten all total].

Mary had about an eighth grade education. Once she was past 21 her prospects for marriage looked slim. She was a rather tall woman, and a bit hefty in size. So, she learned sign language and began teaching the deaf.

At the age of 38 she became a housekeeper for a widower. He married her a short time later.

John was born in 1866, so he was quite a bit older than Mary. As a matter of fact, his eldest daughter, Rita, was born the year before Mary had been born. John already had been the father of 12 children, by 2 wives who had predeceased him. Those children, all grown except for one, did not call her step-mother. Instead, they chose to call her "Aunt Mary". If Mary felt slighted by the fact, she never let on about it.

In 1937, at the age of 40, Mary became a mother for the first time. A baby boy. Then in 1939, at 42, she had another son. And in 1943, at the age of 46, Mary had a third son. By then John was 77 years old.

In 1946, the youngest child, Roy, developed appendicitis. The family lived in a very rural farm area. By the time they realized a doctor must be sought, Roy's appendix had burst and he died just 2 days later in the hospital. I have been told that John never got over the death of Roy. I know for a fact that Mary didn't. She never spoke about him without her eyes welling with tears.

In 1954, at the age of 88 John passed away, leaving Mary a widow with 2 teenaged sons.

Mary remained in the home John had purchased for her until 1965 when she went to live with her oldest son and his family. It was here that Mary sometimes spoke to me about her past.

It was so funny to hear her tell about giving birth to her sons: "The doctor put me on a table with a round hole cut out of it in the center. A galvanized bucket was hung under the hole, and it caught the baby when it was borned." [Mary's babies were all born at home. So, there was no such contraption.]

I never heard her call John anything except "Mr. Bean". I suppose his being 31 years her senior, she felt she should show him respect. I've asked Mary's eldest son if she ever called his father anything except, Mr. Bean. His response was that she most often called him "Dad" or "Daddy".

I remember Mary telling about a time when John cut her hair. "He shingled it for me. His scissors slipped and he just about cut my ear off! It bled and bled and bled!" Her eldest son confirmed this story. He said the tip of her ear was cut badly, and John like to never have got the bleeding stopped!

Mary told about the time when her oldest was once dressed in a lovely white sailor suit, and the family was preparing to go out. She couldn't find him, and went looking about the farm for him. In his lovely white sailor suit he had waded in the mucky pond nearby. The suit would never come white again. It was the first "whippin'" he remembered getting.

Mary's mind began slipping even before she went to live with her son. They didn't call it Alzheimer's back then. It was politely called "hardening of the arteries".

I remember Mary smelling strongly of lilac bath powder, which she used to powder her white sneakers to keep them always looking clean, and smelling fresh. Her hair was thin, and she wore tiny pin curls about the edges to frame her face.

Mary had been diagnosed with tuberculosis when a young woman, and had spent time in a sanitorium for recuperation. The family had to sterilize their dishes with each and every wash every single day afterward. They routinely had TB tine tests and chest x-rays.

In 1973 the family moved back to Mary's home state in West Virginia. I think she sometimes realized she was there. But for the most part, Mary would sit for hours by herself. Just sitting. Neither doing anything, nor wishing to.

Mary became very withdrawn. And had to be reminded to eat.

In the fall of 1974, it was evident Mary was failing. She became nothing more than skin stretched over bone. Her color went to a sickly gray. And her flesh would fall away when bumped.

On her deathbed, in the hospital, Mary recognized her eldest son, and her youngest granddaughter. She knew no one else.

Mary slipped quietly away on January 1st 1975.

The saddest moment of my life was when her son watched the hearse carrying her body pass by the house on the way to the church for her funeral. I've known him my whole life, and I never knew his heart to break like that. His sobs tore through me like nothing else ever has.

At the cemetery, as they layed her body in the grave, I fell into the arms of one of the women from our church. I sobbed, echoing those of her son.

You see, Mary wasn't mad. She had her moments of eccentricity. Remember, they called it "hardening of the arteries".

No, Mary wasn't mad. She was Mary.

My grandmother.

"Undertaker, undertaker, oh undertaker please drive slow, For this lady you are carrying, Oh I hate to see her go!" [Will the Circle Be Unbroken - lyrics by The Stanley Brothers].

1 comment:

dustbunny8 said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother, she would be proud.Thank you for sharing this wonderful part of your family.