This month my grandmother will turn 99. She still lives on her own nearby the rest of my family and does quite well. She is always one of the first to "like" any of our statuses on Facebook, and keeps up on any of the additional goings on in the family through a shared app on her iPad. She plays "Words with Friends." Let's just say that if the WiFi goes out at Grandma's house, it's akin to an emergency. She will call somebody and get that thing fixed in short order. Some of us grandkids were talking about how awesome she is with technology and my brother informed me that Grandma had explained to him that she wasn't really all that talented, she just had "FOMO." When I stared at him blankly my brother then explained to me that "FOMO" was an urban text abbreviation for "fear of missing out." Ha! So in honor of the birthday of one of the classiest and smartest ladies I am privileged to know, I would like to tell you a bit of her and my grandpa's story...
A Young Girl During The Great Depression:
My Grandma Ruth was born in November of 1919. Her mother was just 19 years old, having met her dad in a one-room schoolhouse when they lived on neighboring farms. My great grandparents started a farm of their own, but when my grandma was 11 years old, the Great Depression proved too much for them, and they were forced to sell everything at auction because they simply couldn't make it. (My great grandmother really had a rough go of it when she was young. The Swine Flu of 1918 killed several members of her immediate family; then a devastating flood in 1937 wrecked all their furniture and belongings and made a mess all the way up both levels of their two-story rented home.)
Jobs in the 30's and 40's:
My Grandma is smart. She finished high school at 15 years old. She got a job as soon as she could; although she did have to wait until she turned 16 to get work. Her first job was at the Goodall Company earning $16 per week. After that she got a job in the Carew Tower at the Cabin Creek Coal Company's office working in stenography and as a receptionist in their secretarial department, writing letters and doing record keeping. At that time the Carew Tower was the tallest building in Cincinnati at 50 stories tall. (The internet will tell you that there are 49 floors in the Carew Tower. Note though that an elevated floor is not the same as a story. Stories at or below ground level don't count as a floor.) Anyway, at the time my grandmother was working there, there was no air conditioning. She says there were fans, but that it was hot. And all the men smoked. (Yuck. I didn't get the impression that Grandma was overly impressed by cigarette smoking either.) She remembers seeing the window washers in their harnesses washing the windows on the outside of the building. She stayed there working until my grandpa got back from the war in 1945.
Speaking of my grandfather, they met when they were both working at the Carew Tower. Grandpa was working at the office of the Hatfield Coal Company. (And no, he didn't smoke like most of the rest of the guys.) He was also a member of an evening choral club at the University of Cincinnati. They would see each other at noon for lunch. Since my grandpa didn't have a car, if they wanted to see each other on weekends, he would have to ride one streetcar and then transfer to another one to get from his house on the west side of Cincinnati over to the east side where my Grandma lived in Plainville.
Their wedding was almost messed up by Pearl Harbor...
A Wartime Wedding:
Grandpa was drafted into the army in January 1941. He went away to boot camp and completed his training that summer. Their wedding date was set for December 20, 1941. But then Pearl Harbor happened on December 7. All military leaves were cancelled. He couldn't go anywhere by train or he would risk being picked up by the military police. Grandma wasn't sure how he managed to do it without getting into trouble, but he did. Knowing him he probably just told his commanding officer that he had his own wedding to attend and that he would be back on such and such a date and they likely took his word for it and let him go. He was honest and he could be very convincing. (Anybody else got another theory? Grandpa isn't around anymore to ask.) In any case, he couldn't go by train. So he hitchhiked. He hitchhiked from Hattiesburg, Mississippi back to Cincinnati and made their wedding. Grandma said they had reservations at a nice hotel afterwards and didn't go anywhere else. He got her flowers and candy and they bought a small artificial Christmas tree and put it up there in the hotel apartment suite, which had a murphy bed and a living room. They invited her parents and her brother Larry and Grandpa's mom and brothers over and they all visited. (When Grandpa was 16 his dad died of Bright's disease after a several months stay at a sanitarium.)
After their wedding and honeymoon week together, my grandpa went back to the army base in Hattiesburg, just as he had undoubtedly promised he would. He wouldn't see my grandma again for another 33 months.
During World War II:
Grandpa was deployed to somewhere in the islands of the South Pacific. He and Grandma couldn't exactly FaceTime. They could write letters, but the army was very particular about giving absolutely no clues as to their location. All of their mail was therefore censored. Packs of letters would finally arrive every couple of weeks in a bunch, with a few little things either blacked out or cut out of every letter she received from him.
Grandpa didn't talk much about what happened during those 33 months he was gone. You can read those kinds of things in Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation though. I remember him telling me that he got really sick with malaria. He attributed his hearing loss to being given too much aspirin during his treatment. Grandma told me that after his recovery, they wanted to send him on to a different unit. But Grandpa wanted to be with his old unit. They kept denying his request; but he was not to be dissuaded. He continued insistently up the chain. His persistence paid off. They finally gave in and sent him back where he wanted to go.
The area was rife with conflict. Japanese warplanes flew overhead frequently and those men had to dive fast into their foxholes. Grandpa told me that once, one of the guys next to him just, "lost it," leaving the safety of cover and taking off running. This would have no doubt ended very badly for him because there was nowhere to go. Grandpa says he jumped up and ran after him without even thinking, tackling him to the ground. He then dragged him back into the foxhole by his ankles. I could tell it was a painful memory.
He also told me that he often worked in the kitchen. They called it, "KP," (short for "Kitchen Patrol.") One day, as he was going to be working in the kitchen, one of the young men came up to him in the mess hall. He told my grandpa that he didn't think he was going to be coming back that night, that he didn't think he'd make it through that day. He handed my grandfather his wallet and asked him to make sure his wife got it. He didn't come back that night either.
My grandma lived with her parents until Grandpa returned by ship in 1945, landing on the West Coast. He then took a train to Indianapolis where my grandmother met him.
A Happy Reunion:
The army sent my grandparents to Miami Beach for 2 weeks of R&R. My grandma says they had a great time. She said the beaches were pretty and the nice hotel they stayed at was tall and right there on the water. Lots of other military couples were there and they had buses to take them places they might like to go. After that he was stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky where he and my grandma were able to rent a room in a private home. He was then discharged in the spring.
A Family Legacy:
My dad was born in 1946 and my aunt three and a half years later.
I remember my grandpa pulling us grand kids around in a little red wagon all through the neighborhood looking for squirrels and cats and anything else that was interesting. I remember him chasing us all through the house, until we heard Grandma chide, "Not in the house!" "Uh, oh," Grandpa would say, "we better go outside!" The chase would then resume out of doors. What a rush! Our hearts raced and pounded as we squealed and screamed and ran as fast as our little legs would carry us!
Grandma would make the yummiest meals for us. She helped me practice my spelling on the chalkboard she kept in the corner of her kitchen. "Grandma how do you spell Cincinnati?" Grandma was never too busy to help me learn, even if she had to call out the letters for me from where she was cooking at the stove. Grandpa would read stories to us every night. I had lots of favorites, but I especially remember The Three Little Pigs. Grandpa was so animated as he told how the big bad wolf huffed and puffed and blew that little straw house all to pieces!
I remember their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. They renewed their vows in their church. My grandpa wore his military uniform just like he had for their wedding. And it still fit him fine. My grandma wore her wedding dress too. She didn't need to have it altered to do so either. It fit just fine. That was the day I decided that I would like to wear her dress on my wedding day.
My grandparents were married 62 years when my grandpa passed away.
I remember how they folded the flag at Grandpa's funeral and handed it to my Grandma. She was so proud of him. She will still tell you, "he took such good care of me."
My grandparents and my parents both taught me to pray. They told me that God would listen to me; and that I could tell Him anything or ask for His help with anything. They also taught me the importance of being honest and doing what was right, especially when nobody was looking. Because even if nobody else sees it, God always sees. I'd like to say that I always took their advice and remembered their words! Well, most of the time I tried... And after that, well you can either remember beforehand and save yourself a heap of grief, or you can remember it after the fact and pick yourself up and dust yourself off and determine you won't do that again. I've done it both ways. For the record, the former is way easier, just in case anyone was wondering.
Well, that's a brief idea of my grandparents.
In conclusion therefore I shall leave you with the words of Numbers 6:24-26. I know them so well because my grandpa would speak them often over all of us.
"The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you;
And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace."
Happy Birthday Grandma. I love you.
I'm Debbie. I love listening to chickens cackle and sing. I love Lindt chocolate truffles, a good cup of coffee, and a good book.