In Celebration of Grandparents, Part One

About a year and half after the end of World War I, in the spring of 1921, on a Wednesday, a little baby girl was born in Centertown, Kentucky, a little protestant town northeast of Lexington. Life happened amidst coal mines; prohibition, bootleggers, and moonshiners; the rise of the mob, mafia, and gangsters – most notably Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and Ma Barker; women gaining the right to vote; Time Magazine first publication; the first Winter Olympics in the Alps; Hoover being appointed to lead the FBI; the Great Mississippi River flood; Charles Lindbergh making his first non-stop transatlantic flight; the beginning work on Mount Rushmore; Amelia Earhart being the first woman to fly over the Atlantic; JC Penney opening their first store in Delaware; the great stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression; the Dust Bowl; the construction of the Empire State Building; Bird’s Eye inventing frozen foods; Nevada legalizing gambling; Babe Ruth; and the book release of Gone With the Wind. This is a macro world picture of life during that time. Life on a micro level reveals that her real mother passed away during the childbirth of her younger sister, her sister lived. My great grandfather remarried, having four more children, including a set of twin girls. I have a few shabby pictures of her family – one picture of her grandparents, one picture of her real parents, and one picture of her real father and stepmother. I also have a picture of the front of the home where these six children grew up. I am told they could look through the cracks of the wood floor planks and see the ground; I am told it could get quite cold in the winter. They kept the fires burning with timber from the land. They slept on featherbeds and under feather blankets, cleaned clothes on a washboard and hung them outside on the clothesline to dry, and harvested the garden and canned much food for winter. In my mind, I get a hint of the Walton’s on a much smaller scale – faith in God, attending the protestant church on Sundays, singing hymns, saved and baptized in the river, playing with siblings, deeply loved, together working hard as a family living this life they had been given. In her mid-teens, my grandmother and her real sister move to my hometown. With little time to breathe, she meets my grandfather. He recently moved there from Paynesville, Kentucky with marginal education and means, looking for work. I am told, his grandfather, which would be my great great grandfather was the richest man in Mead County, Kentucky owning countless acres of land. When he died, the land was split up into parcels and given as an inheritance to various family members, my grandfather included. My grandparents marry in 1939 when she is 18.  She came with southern hospitality and deep Baptist roots. She overflowed a gentle nurturing spirit; kept a neat, clean, tidy home; cooked meals morning, noon, and night; and enjoyed spending much time with her family, as all the siblings, hers and his, slowly relocated to where they lived.  In 1940, she gives birth to a daughter, my aunt, and in 1941, she gives birth to a son, my dad. They rent a very small, one bedroom house. My grandmother takes in laundry and ironing for the property owner.  I am told they were in good standing with the property owner. The property owner actually lived next door in a large two-story home. My grandfather faithfully pays rent on time, completes carpentry work on both houses, and grooms the lawns. He finds favor with the property owner. When the property owner passes away, they move into the big house as renters at first, and eventually they are offered to purchase the properties at a fair, reasonable price because of my grandparent’s faithfulness and hard work. When my grandfather acquires the properties, he becomes the property manager and in turn begins renting out the little house and the upstairs of the big house, which has a separate stairwell entry from the back. Oh how I remember these places! Now my grandfather is illiterate; he has never learned to read or write. I do not recall his oppression and struggles, but I am told he carried much fear and shame as he encountered obstacles – employment hurdles; quality of life concerns such as driving tests, his inability to read street signs, names on buildings, mail, medication instructions, follow written instructions, write his name or anything for that matter. He is dependent upon my grandmother, my aunt, or my father. I am told he was a good provider and conscientious about paying bills on time. He actually works at a local dairy farm when times are about manual labor –  feeding cows, milking cows, filling milk pails or aluminum milk cans, and loading them for transport on a horse-drawn wagon. When dairy production becomes regulated, labeling requirements catapulte my grandfather into a frenzy because he cannot read the labels. He brings the new labels to my father and like flashcards, they work on visual recognition of which labels meant what. My grandfather is able to remain at the dairy for a season, but his illiteracy becomes his demise. I imagine it grieved him terribly. I faintly recall a tutor being hired to teach him how to read, but he does not have the self-assurance or patience and quits. Subsequently, he becomes a self-employed carpenter. Between rental properties and the carpentry business, he actually does well. My grandmother supplements their income by taking in laundry and ironing, working at a local canning company, working for a US TV manufacturer, and eventually working ten years for a local internationally known candy company. At some point in her life, my grandmother acquires diabetes. I do not know if it is Type I, Type II, or gestational, but what I do know is that my grandfather administers daily insulin shots to her. However, the progression of the disease seizes her eyesight. This is about the time I am born. I will write further on my relationship with my grandparents, but I pause here because the real truth is that every single person has a family history and every single person has their own story within that history. I feel like I am on a precipice overlooking a lovely landscape that I have never seen. When we share our history; when we share our story; when we invite others to enter into our story; when we open up to vulnerability; when we expose the dark secrets to light; when we reach past our inhibitions, shame, anxieties, and fears; when we reach down deep and dig in the messy, complicated, and imperfect to touch the pain, sorrow, heartaches, losses, failures, mistakes, hopes, and dreams; when we are willing to authentically speak our truth; we begin to break down barriers and stigmas; we become connected by tiny threads, we become a community. I am on the margins of considering that here is where we learn the truth about the immeasurable, steadfast, unfailing, unconditional love of God. Love you, mean it! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ God’s Everlasting Love, Romans 8:31-39 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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