This is a picture of my mother at the age of 16. Around 1926 I figure. She had a really rough, sad childhood. I found this picture in a box of old photos that I’ve been meaning to scan. It nearly crumbled in my hand so I scanned it right away. Then I got to thinking and my mind traveled back in time, back to the stories I’d heard about my family. This starts with my mother's grandparents....whom she had never met. She did, however have fond memories of her great-grandparents (James's parents) and spent many summers on their farm.I don't know much any further back than that.
My mother’s maternal grandparents, as well as her great grandparents (James's parents) are about the only ones talked about; the rest is sort of a mystery. I know nothing of Liz's family. I’ll tell you about mom's grandparents and for the sake of this post, I’ll call them Liz and James. They married and its noted that James’s parents were fairly well off for the times (sometime around 1870 or so) since they did own quite a bit of property. I don't know how many children they had other than James. They were German people....hard-working and honest. James and Liz made a life together and had five children, my grandmother being the oldest.(girl #1) When the twin babies were only about 3, James was killed in an accident, which left Liz so shocked that she was never the same mentally. James’s family tried to help her as much as possible but she was stubborn, very proud and had a fiery temper to boot. She yanked my grandmother out of school at the age of about 11 to help her raise the kids and earn money for them to get by. She took in laundry for other people and my grandmother used to tell me stories of delivering the clean laundry by pulling a big wagon down the street. James’s parents were not impressed by their daughter-in-law's living conditions and they repeatedly asked her to at least let them take the children but she flatly refused. I guess things looked pretty bleak and they didn’t have much at all.
One day while Liz was away getting supplies, and she had the twins with her, James’s parents came to the house and packed up the three kids and took them home. The left a note for Liz and told her that they would see to it that the children had everything they needed. They extended the invitation to her as well as the twins, they could see she desperately needed help. Well Liz flew into a rage and, as the story goes, she packed up what she could, grabbed up the twins and left town for parts unknown. The children mourned the loss of their siblings but could do nothing about it and apparently James’s parents could not locate her, although they did hear things about her from time to time.
What had happened as close as anyone knows is that she took off with the twins but could not make it, having to take care of them. She eventually got mixed up with a man and he talked her into giving them up for adoption, which she did do. Fortunately both of them were adopted, but unfortunately not to the same family or close proximity. I think my uncle was about 6 when he was adopted and his twin, my aunt was about 9. James’s family did not find out about the adoption until the children were grown. My oldest uncle (boy#1) looked for years until he found his brother (one of the twins) and reunited him with the rest of his siblings. They were adults at the time. A happy note connected with this is that my uncle (boy #2) made it a quest to find his twin sister and he did find her when they were in their late twenties.
My grandmother really never had a childhood; she was made responsible for her siblings and then had to work early to help with expenses. I have often wondered if that was the reason why she had such a hard time being a mother herself. Don’t get me wrong….. she was a very talented woman; smart, excellent cook and seamstress, impeccable housekeeper and had good business sense, even though she had been denied a decent education. Let’s just say that it’s like that old poem about the little girl with the curl: “when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid”. That was my grandmother. She was not a good mother.
She had my mom at 16, divorced her husband a year later because he was ‘boring’. My mom cramped her style so she pawned her off on her sister who lived in Texas at the time. My mom lived there with her for a while. My grandmother went through husbands at a record rate….she was widowed only once out of eight husbands. Her temper and her fondness for alcohol did not make her a reliable wife. Yet, she was skilled in so many things and would give you the shirt off her back if she liked you. She nursed so many people back to health with absolutely no formal medical training. She, herself, beat Diphtheria twice and managed to outlive all of her siblings and even her own daughter (my mother). She lived to be 94 and it was pneumonia that eventually claimed her.
But back to my mom. Because of all the marriages that her mother had, she was subjected to many different stepfathers and more than a few took delight in beating her……badly. Back then the school turned a blind eye to bumps and bruises that more than likely were caused by beatings. Now that I think of it, it’s a miracle that she wasn’t sexually abused on top of that….but maybe her own mother’s bad temper kept the step-dads in their place in that regard.
The rest of my grandmother’s siblings pretty much all had sad lives, just like they started out. My oldest uncle, boy#1, had a terrible addiction with alcohol and found AA in the last 5 years of his life. They helped him so much and he was finally able to kick the habit, but unfortunately he didn’t live long after that. My oldest aunt, girl #2, was never happy and lived in poverty all of her life. She did not have a drinking problem that I ever knew about but her life was filled with sadness and regret. Then the twins….my uncle, boy #2, went on to be a police chief in a small town, he married twice, the second one being a perfect match. He had a pretty happy life because of that. My aunt, girl #3, lived at the orphanage until she was 9 or 10, then she was finally adopted by a very old couple. She was sort of a wild teenager and ended up getting TB and living in a TB hospital for years and years after losing a lung. She had two marriages before that and no children. She died at 78 from complications of about 4 different things and was confined to a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.
I can’t help but wonder…..if James hadn’t been killed in that accident…..how different would all these lives had been.
As for my mom, she met my dad and her life changed forever. My mother was happy, loving and the best mother in the world as far as I'm concerned. She and my father were deeply in love and I'm so happy that her life made that wonderful turn. She really had no training to be a good mother, but she was. Was it because her own childhood had been so bad? I think it was because she was happy, truly happy.