Musings & Threads. Stories from the Past.
Stories from the Past
Part One – It Was a Different Time, But it Was a Good Life.
She was the sweetest, most gentle soul I have ever had the privilege of knowing – and not just because she was my Grandma. If you were to ask anyone who knew her, they would say the same thing. She had a huge smile that lit up her entire being and people seemed happier just being in her presence. I know for me, I always felt lucky that she lived with our family when I was growing up and I loved spending so much time with her.
I remember from a very young age – before I went to school - sitting on the picnic bench next to her in our backyard. We would just sit, our legs touching and sometimes holding hands. My grandma always humming a beautiful tune or singing a song. Her singing voice was lovely. She would stop singing to listen to a bird’s song and she would tell me what kind of bird it was. Sometimes, we would just sit in silence for a while, until Grandma decided to tell me a story about her life. I still hear these stories in her voice in my head.
“My father died when I was very small. I remember visiting him in the hospital in Austria,” one story started. “He was very, very sick. We were poor and my father couldn’t work anymore, so my mother would let me eat the food they gave him in the hospital. He couldn’t eat it, so why not? I was hungry!” “After he died, my mother took me to America and she worked as a cook for rich people. She was such a wonderful cook” — I would always interject here that my Grandma was a good cook too and she would hug me, give me a big smile and a hug and ask, “Do you think so?” as I smiled and nodded. After a while of silent contemplation, the story would continue. “My mother would take me to work sometimes, but I had to behave and sit in the chair and be very quiet. I didn’t like that. As I got older, the people my mother cooked for didn’t want me around. When I turned 13, my mother told me that she found a good man for me to marry – a businessman. “Grandpa?” “Yes, it was your Grandpa, Donna. I cried and cried so hard when my mother told me I had no choice. I cried more when I had to leave my mother to live with Grandpa. It felt like years that I cried. He was much older than I was. But, I learned how to love him and he really was a good man and a good husband.” Then more quietly, “…but I was so young and I wanted to stay with my mother.”
As a young child, I remember thinking that Grandma’s mother was very mean to make my Grandma cry like that. When I reached the same age that Grandma was when she got married, I thought about how awful it would be if I had to leave my home to marry a stranger and how sad I felt for my Grandmother. When I told my Grandma as much, she only smiled and said, “It was a different time Donna, and my mother had no choice. She had to work. Don’t feel bad for me. I had a good life with your Grandpa. It was a good life.” As I got older, I was still horrified that my Great-Grandmother gave her daughter’s hand in marriage – especially at such a young age - but my Grandma’s words always echo in my mind and in my memory. It really was a different time and it must have taken everything in my Great-Grandmother’s heart and soul to make that decision for her daughter. She was a single mother, with no other family around, trying to make a living in a strange country. She was likely barely able to survive herself, let alone with a child. I can almost feel my Great-Grandmother’s pain as she looked for a suitable husband for her daughter. It really was a different time, and I think she did the best she knew how for her only child. After all, it did turn out to be a good life for her.