by Jennifer on October 23, 2008

The woman in the photo to the right is my grandmother, and my grandfather is behind her. They are standing at the front of a church in August of 1966, at the wedding of their oldest son.

My father was 21. My mother was 19 and pregnant with my sister.

I don’t presume to know how my grandmother felt about that, but you can see here that she put on a nice dress and smiled, at least for the camera. Maybe, after the wedding, she put away any misgivings about the marriage alongside her hat and purse in her closet.

My memories of her are simple, self-referential, and softened at the edges by time, like old photos. But in those memories, I can’t think of a time when she didn’t seem positive, even happy. More than that, she took care of everyone around her, making sure we were entertained and fed, or playing endless games of war with her grandchildren.

When I look at this photo of her, it’s with a heart that knows only small bits of information about what her life was like, what it was like to be married to my grandfather and raising three boys. The things I have heard about those years could fit on small scraps of paper in the palm of my hand and not fill it up. I wish I had asked her, had thought to ask her, to tell me about her life when she was younger.

I do know that by the time my dad finished high school, the family had moved something like 26 times. My grandpa worked in the steel industry, and whenever he would lose one job (sometimes he quit, and sometimes he got transferred or fired) she would have to pack up the house and they would move again.

Now that I am about the same age as she was in that photo, I find myself wondering how did she do it? How did she hang in there? How did she manage to move time after time after time, arranging for new schools and new doctors and new houses? What was it like for her, never being able to settle into a home and stay for a while?

I’ve cropped the photo so that you can see a few details about the way she looked that day.

The dress, the hat, the handbag, the gloves. The shoes, too, I would guess, though I can’t find a photo of them. All so well matched, ladylike.

After she died, I found that purse and hat among her things. For 36 years, she had held on to them. My grandpa gave them to me, and I have them still.

To have those two things, from that day, makes me feel like I have a bit of her courage, too. Maybe even some of the strength that let her put on a nice dress and a brave face and just get on with it. To take what life set at her doorstep, and to make the best of it.

I borrow her spirit sometimes. If only I could look good in that hat, too.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Ducky October 23, 2008 at 4:33 am

My, don’t I look nice?

Louise October 23, 2008 at 5:38 am

I only saw glimpses of your grandmother, and I do not think ever a picture before this. Some of her looks passed down to both you and your sister, I think.

Moving 29 times? And to think how “NOT” wealthy people were in those days.

Put on the hat and grab the courage!

Louises last blog post..This is a Joke, Right???

Jenn @ Juggling Life October 23, 2008 at 7:14 am

I think people had a lot more “just do what needs to be done” in them back then.

Jenn @ Juggling Lifes last blog post..Some Answers from a Heavy Heart

Gwen October 23, 2008 at 7:35 am

I bet that hat would look awesome with your new hair!

Manic Mommy October 23, 2008 at 7:39 am

My maternal grandmother gave my mother, her 21 year old daughter away to my father, who didn’t deserve her, when my mom was six months pregnant with my sister.

Gram raised a fine family with a wonderful husband. My father never had a kind word for her. I wish I’d had her longer so she could know we turned out well despite my father’s many failings.

Manic Mommys last blog post..I Think We Made a Bad Call

csquaredplus3 October 23, 2008 at 8:51 am

Those are lovely photographs and I’m certain your words would honor your Grandmother if she were to read them. I believe she’d be proud of the courage and strength you exhibit – the intelligence and sense of humor too – and smile knowing she was likely a source.

I love her outfit.

the mama bird diaries October 23, 2008 at 10:01 am

I wish I had asked my grandmother a lot more questions too. Now all those questions are unanswered.

This is excellent advice…

“Maybe even some of the strength that let her put on a nice dress and a brave face and just get on with it. To take what life set at her doorstep, and to make the best of it.”

the mama bird diariess last blog post..unexpected

Daryl October 23, 2008 at 10:28 am

From what I can see of her, you look like your mother ..

You know I think we all feel a little disconnected from our past when we dont have older family members to fill in the blanks we didnt know we would want to know when they were still with us … when we packed up my parents house, after mom died 3+ months after dad, and there was a photo of her family and all I could identify were her parents, my grandparents .. I know some of the children in the photo were my mom’s older brothers/sisters and maybe the baby is mom but I dont know for sure … and there’s no one to ask …

Tell your boy and girl everything good you remember so someday they dont look at a photo and wonder: who are those people …

Daryls last blog post..thursday in the hood

we_be_toys October 23, 2008 at 10:56 am

Oh sniff! That was just so beautiful and bittersweet, I’m just a mess after reading it.

we_be_toyss last blog post..Road Trip

Bruce October 23, 2008 at 11:42 am

The more we come to realize what our parents went through to raise us, the more lasy we appear to ouselves. Out family had to move all throughout my childhood and my mother delt with it. Something few women I know today could do.

Thank goodness for old photographs. The older I get, they are worth more than bank notes or CDs to me.

raino October 23, 2008 at 2:30 pm

jennifer, i love those old photos and love the way that you have told this story. the memories you have, as small as they are, you can cherish and hold onto forever.

i njoy your blog very much.

rainos last blog post..Sticky Tape

Mrs. G. October 23, 2008 at 4:10 pm

I think we could all use a tablespoon of her suck-it-up-ness…

Mrs. G.s last blog post..Slow Cook Thursday

RiverPoet October 23, 2008 at 6:14 pm

I imagine that it wasn’t easy for her. When my cousin got pregnant at age 15 (in 1973), it was a family scandal, and her parents publicly supported her but secretly gave her a very hard time. It can’t have been easy for any of them. The world was a different place then.

And for the record, I think you’re a pretty courageous woman, from what I’ve seen.

Peace – D

RiverPoets last blog post..And to think, I just eat it…

Ree October 23, 2008 at 7:20 pm

Grandmas are the most special people in the world.

Rees last blog post..Three – Past in Polaroids 11

Madge October 23, 2008 at 7:23 pm

the things we should know when we were younger. the things we should know now…..why can’t they tell us?

Madges last blog post..Poem Thursday

Kimberly October 24, 2008 at 7:30 am

What a wonderful post. I’m sure she’s proud to be honored this way, by you. She looked (and sounded) like a lovely woman.

I say wear the hat!

Kimberlys last blog post..Wordless Wednesday: Can we get THIS one, Mommy?

Ann October 24, 2008 at 11:04 am

She looks so Jackie in that picture!

What a wonderful way to honor her.

Anns last blog post..I Think I’m Finally Hydrogenated

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana October 24, 2008 at 11:16 am

The crazy thing is that she probably didn’t think about it. She may have just done what was necessary because that is what was expected. Amazingly fun dress and purse.

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvanas last blog post..It is not me, it is Heidi–LINK HERE NOW!

anymommy October 24, 2008 at 11:40 am

A lovely post. I think about the questions I was too young and self centered to ask my grandparents all the time. How to get in and get them to open up about their lives. What the magic perfect question would have been. Opportunities lost. It makes me braver about blogging, because hopefully, some day, my kids and grandkids will think it’s interesting.

anymommys last blog post..Not a Cinderella Story

jenrantsraves October 24, 2008 at 5:34 pm

This post made me ache for my grandma! Is it just me, or were women built stronger back then?

flutter October 24, 2008 at 6:54 pm

Oh, you could rock that hat

flutters last blog post..Therapy Notes: The one where he just says it like it is

melissa October 25, 2008 at 6:52 pm

That’s so cool about the purse and hat. Her face is friendly and kind. I bet she made friends easily.

david mcmahon October 25, 2008 at 8:27 pm

I think we all borrow the spirit of our ancestors sometimes, Jennifer.

JCK October 27, 2008 at 9:28 pm

I love that idea…of drawing strength or a character trait from a grandmother who is gone.

It is a great outfit! She looks very Jackie Kennedy, doesn’t she?

“Maybe, after the wedding, she put away any misgivings about the marriage alongside her hat and purse in her closet.”

Lovely, Jennifer. Just lovely.

JCKs last blog post..I cannot write to please other people

saz October 28, 2008 at 2:16 am

I love this phrase…can I borrow it some time, you seem to be a generous soul….

‘I borrow her spirit sometimes.’
greta post, very evocative..

moannie October 28, 2008 at 4:28 am

Lovely post. We absorb traits unwittingly. I still use mum’s favourite sayings, adding ‘Mum always said…’

I remember how women of our generation always wore hat and gloves.

We were conventional then.

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