My grandmother passed away earlier this week. She was 89 years young. These are the words I said at her funeral:
I have a lot of memories of my grandmother, Mary Martin, but one of my favorite memories happened rather recently. I’d been researching our family’s genealogy. I wanted to know where we came from. I wanted to have something more than a bunch of random names on a sheet of paper. I wanted to know our family’s history. Grandma was happy to help me out, and our talks sparked some interesting stories from her childhood.
I remember her telling tales of her mother, my great-grandmother. All of a sudden, she stopped talking and gave me a meaningful smile.
“You know, Juli. I can see a bit of my mother in all of you grandkids. I’ve never told you this before, but I wanted you to know, of all of my grandkids, you remind me the most of her. Your personality is a lot like my mother’s.”
I remember feeling touched and overwhelmed by these words. One of those “WOW” moments. I was excited. I remember feeling very please that I reminded her of great-grandma.
Then she told me another story. It began like this:
She said, “Juli, my mother was a very stubborn woman.”
As soon as she said these words, I thought “Uh oh.”
She continued, “My mother didn’t always listen. Her parents didn’t want her to marry your great-grandfather. They thought he was too poor.”
You see, my great-great-grandfather, Grandma Martin’s grandfather, was kind of a big shot in his little town in Arkansas. He was the first to own a car in his tiny town. He had a big house. He had land. Power. Money. My great-great-grandparents used to host dances in their home. They wanted their children to follow in their footsteps, to act a certain way, to be a certain way. They wanted their children to socialize with the “right” kind of people. But great-grandma had a rebellious streak. Great-grandma had “friends in low places.” She had friends who were servants and sharecroppers, good people, but not the “right” kind of people, and that’s not how things were done in her day, especially in the south. Her friends taught her important life skills, practical things. They taught her how to cook. When my great-grandmother married my great-grandfather, she gave up a life of privilege to be with the man she loved. All of her brothers and sisters got a house when they got married, as a wedding present. She did not. In fact, her father wanted to disown her. Later on, her father had a change of heart and tried to make things right with her. He tried to give her a house, but she wouldn’t accept it. My great-grandparents chose their own path, a path of hard work, a path that eventually led them to Michigan.
Grandma Martin finished her story by telling me this:
“Now, Juli. I’m not saying my mother was in the wrong for holding onto her own morals and beliefs, but…if she’d hadn’t been so stubborn, she could have had a house handed to her instead of having to work so hard for one! Remember that next time someone offers to give you a little help in life. It’s one thing to be stubborn, but don’t be so stubborn that you don’t see the big picture when someone you care about tries to make things right with you. Your great-grandmother could have had a house GIVEN to her! My land! A whole house. Think about that!”
I have thought about it. For good or for bad, I probably would have done the same thing. I wouldn’t have taken the house.
I am a stubborn woman. Apparently, I come from a long line of stubborn women. Women who see an obvious, easy path laid out before them, and aren’t afraid to choose a different direction.
My mother was a stubborn woman. She held onto her faith in God despite her illness. She wrote music and hymns, even though her hands were so numb, she could barely sign her own name.
Her mother, my grandmother, Mary Martin, was also a stubborn woman. She bought her first home, while my grandfather was still in the service. Her parents didn’t think it was a good idea at the time, but she chose her own path. Later on, she had a family of her own, joined the workforce, and worked in a factory at a time in history when most women were content enough to stay at home and take care of the house and children. She was a pioneer. My grandmothers, on both my mother and father’s sides of my family, worked in the same factory. They were both hard working moms and good friends. If it hadn’t been for these lovely ladies, my parents would never have met one another, and my sisters and I wouldn’t be here.
Did grandma choose the easiest path? No. She was stubborn. She juggled having both a family and a career. Being a wife and mother myself, who works outside of the home, I know that couldn’t have been easy for her.
Grandma Martin taught Sunday school. She sewed dresses for my dolls. She could host a dinner for a dozen or more people, and make it seem effortless. As a child, I remember going to her house after church on Sunday. Every Sunday, she’d cook enough food to rival most family’s Thanksgiving dinners. I don’t know how she did it. There’d be fresh bread, and veggies from Grandpa’s garden, and she’d ALWAYS make at least 2 desserts, one was usually chocolate pudding pie. She made sure everyone else’s needs were taken care of before she sat down to eat. I’m not sure if she ever got to sit down and eat her own cooking while it was still hot, but I do know she enjoyed taking care of other people, and especially her family.
Looking back at our family’s past, I know that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if it wasn’t for the stubborn women that came before me. In our family, we don’t always make the right decisions. None of the women, or men, in our family are perfect. There’s no such thing as perfection where humans are involved. But in our family, when we fall, we’re not afraid to pick ourselves back up and keep on going. We’re not afraid to hold onto our faith and our beliefs. We’re not afraid to follow our own paths, even if that means making tough choices and decisions.
When I went to see Grandma Martin at the hospital, before she died. Grandma told me that she was proud of me, that she was happy to have lived long enough to see me grow up, to see me become a wife and mother myself. I feel blessed to have been given that time with her.
Though she is gone from this world, Grandma Martin will always be a part of my life. She was the woman who named me. We each held onto one of my mother’s hands when it was time for her to be with God. She helped me say goodbye to my mother, and I know in my heart, they are together once more.