My grandmother was a lovely young woman, who has had an extraordinary life. She is my role model for endurance, the overwhelming strength of her love, and for her willingness to pick up after the storm, and carry on.
The first time she married, she was only 15.
She had one child, my Uncle Leslie, with her first husband, Earl, who answered the call of service, went off to World War II, and was killed. I’ve never even seen any pictures of him, but Gram picked up her life, her son, and kept going.
A few years later, Gram met my grandfather, Merle. From everything that I’ve heard from family members that remember him, he was a total practical joker, with a ready smile and a huge heart. He adopted my Uncle Les, and he and Gram had 2 more children, my mother, and another Uncle, Marlin.
Then, my Grampa Merle entered into military service. From family members, I learned that Grampa was totally dedicated to the idea of service to country being service to all the people he loved back home. He was a man of backbone, as well as humor.
I’ve also had the privilege of reading the letters that my Gram and Grampa wrote to each other during the time they were separated for his training, and they are beautiful expressions of a wonderful relationship, both full of love and hope.
The letters that Gram sent to Grampa when he got shipped overseas, during the Korean War…. were all unopened. I couldn’t bear to break the seals on those letters, once I learned that Grampa died shortly after arrival. He never had a chance to read any of the letters. They sit in a memory box in her home, tied with a red ribbon.
Gram, having lost a second husband, and now having three children, picked up her life, and kept going.
She married her third husband, the only man I ever knew as Grandfather, Don. They had one son that didn’t live through childhood, due to a heart problem, and then a few years later, another son, my Uncle, Jeff, that was to be her last child.
Then, when I was 5, my eldest uncle, Les, committed suicide due to emotional problems involving alcoholism. It totally rocked the family, and there are still some wounds left open by that.
By this time, my Gram had lost 2 husbands, and 2 children.
Each time, she came back, enduring through the pain and the heartache, and kept her willingness to open herself up to risk the possibility of pain, for the joys of love.
Gram and Grampa Don were together for many years, until one day, when I was 16, my mom stopped me on my way home and told me that he’d had a massive heart attack, and had passed away.
Gram had lost her third husband. All her children were, by this time, grown and on with their own lives, but she still picked herself up, and moved on. Still enduring, still dedicated to family, and still willing to love.
And, in her later years, she married again. To the man who was my grandfather’s best friend in the service, and the man who brought his body back from Korea, Virgil. They were married in a lovely, non-denominational service, with their children, and their grandchildren there to support and celebrate with them.
When Virgil was diagnosed with cancer, he began treatments, but it spread quickly into his bones, and he passed away a short time later.
Gram has, in her life, lost 4 husbands, and 2 sons. More pain than most people would be able to endure, surely. I’m not sure how I would have dealt with so much loss, and I’m eternally thankful that nothing of this nature has happened to me, or my loved ones.
But, the lesson that I learned from this woman isn’t one of pain.
This lesson…. is about the endurance of love, the endurance of life, and the endurance of memory.
And that not all the old soldiers who survived the wars… were men in uniform.
And, some who were men in uniform, didn’t survive. And we need to remember them all.
I never met my maternal grandfather.
But if I had? I would totally have been a Grampa’s Girl. I know.