Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Little About My Parents

I read this post yesterday, about an adult daughter dealing with the age-related dementia of her mother. It got me to thinking about my parents.

My mother died of cancer when I was 30 years old. She was 61. My dad died of heart disease eleven years later, at the age of 71.

Grief is a hard thing to define. The grief over the loss of a parent is different than the grief over the loss of a sibling or of a child. But it's all grief. I experienced the grief of losing my only sibling and both parents at a relatively young age. But I was spared the ongoing grief that many must deal with as they watch their parents age and fade before their eyes, often having to come to grips with the loss of the person inside the body before the body itself yields to the inevitable pull of death.

But, lest this post become too maudlin, I'd just like to share a little about my parents.

My mother was the only daughter of her parents, sandwiched between an older and a younger brother. Her father was a railroader who died when Mom and her brothers were still children. Her mother was a teacher. I'm not sure when she stopped teaching; but, from my earliest memories, she worked in a grocery store in the small town where she lived.

My Mother's Mother

My Mother (Far Right) with Her Two brothers
My dad was the only child of his parents. His mother took her own life by swallowing weed poison when my dad was a 13-month-old baby. She was only 18 years old. Her husband, my dad's father, eventually left Dad in the care of his maternal grandmother and moved to Oklahoma, where he remarried and fathered two daughters. Both of my dad's half-sisters are still living, although only one of them has stayed in contact with Dad's family in this neck of the woods.

Dad's Mother

Dad and His Father
Dad's maternal grandmother, Grandma M., was one of those hardy women so often found in her generation. She gave birth to eight children, two of which died early, one as an infant and one at two years of age. Her last daughter, my Aunt B., was five years old when Dad was born, so aunt and nephew were actually raised together as sister and brother.

Grandma and Grandpa M. (Dad's Grandparents, Who Raised Him)
In addition to raising her own children and my dad and occasionally another grandchild, Grandma M. cared for her invalid husband, who suffered from crippling arthritis. Aunt B. used to tell me about how Grandma M. would hitch up the horse and buggy every Sunday, no matter the weather, and take the family to church.

One day, while Aunt B. and my dad were in school, their house burned down. Grandma M. had managed to get her crippled husband out to safety, but they lost everything. Aunt B. had to go live with and work for another family until the house could be replaced. I'm not sure where Grandma and Grandpa and Dad lived during that time. When they got a new house, it wasn't new at all, but one that was moved to their farm, pulled by horses. That story always fascinated me, and I found myself wishing there was a photograph of the house-moving event.

Times were hard in the 1930s, and extended families often lived together. One of Grandma M.'s daughters was married and doing fairly well in the poor economy, so she and her husband took in my dad, Aunt B., and Grandma and Grandpa M. To hear them reminisce about those days, you would have thought that was the best time of their lives.

Grandpa M. died before I was born, and Grandma M. died as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident when I was five; so my memories of her are limited. Her injuries actually weren't serious, but she developed pneumonia in the aftermath of the accident; and that's what took her life.

I don't really recall how my parents met. They were from different small towns and hadn't known each other in school. My dad worked almost 40 years in a large factory. Mom worked as a secretary in a law firm. When she died in 1975, one of the partners in the firm told me at her funeral that she had taught him everything he knew. I'm sure that was an exaggeration, but it was nice of him to say it.

These are my parents...probably their senior pictures from their respective high schools.
After Dad's heart attack in 1967, he wasn't able to continue working in the factory and had to retire. Not too long after that, Mom had to retire from her job in the law office due to her cancer. So the two of them were able to enjoy some leisure time and do a little traveling before Mom's death.

I took this photo of my parents on their 35th wedding anniversary in 1974.
I lived in one of two house trailers on Dad's farm. And my nephew, Dave, moved into the other one sometime after my mom's death. Dad was having a hard time getting used to life without Mom, and I think it was a real help and encouragement to him to have Dave there. The two of them spent a lot of time together, and it was probably therapeutic for both of them. My brother, Dave's father, had died when Dave was only two years old. I think Dave and Dad probably had some conversations about Phil that benefited both of them.

Dad kept the farm for another ten years after Mom's death, I think mostly for my benefit. Finally, though, his own health made it impractical for him to continue to live there. By then I had sold all my horses. When the decision was made to sell the farm, I sold my house trailer and bought a small house in town. Dad sold the house and farm and moved into an apartment in the same building where Aunt B. lived.

I've always loved this picture of Dad and my dog, Heather, taken in 1977. Although Heather was my dog on paper, she was Dad's dog in both their hearts.


  1. What a wonderful, wonderful post, Linda. You have a real gift for storytelling. I thoroughly enjoyed every word and picture of this.

    Good work, friend. :)

  2. Sandra-Thank you so much for your kind comments. And thanks to you and Jenny for talking me into this blog thing. I'm enjoying it.

  3. So lovely to meet your family this way. The photos are incredibly beautiful, Linda - and your storytelling even more so. I find it amazing how your mother in her youth, and your father's mother have a look of the youth of more recent times. If it weren't for the clothing, I wouldn't know these were old photos, and not current photography with stylish finishes of sepia.

  4. Hilary-Thanks; I'm glad you enjoyed it. I went back and looked at those photos again, and I can see what you mean. But the clothes are interesting, aren't they? I've always thought my father's mother was beautiful. Because she died so young, these pictures are the image of her that will always be locked in my mind. And I find the quality of the photos from that day surprising. A couple of them have to be close to a hundred years old.


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