My grandparents have been gone for more than half my life – my mother’s parents, that is. Both of my father’s parents died when he was a boy.
Like so many things, grandparents are wasted on the young. It’s only as an adult that I recognize the lost opportunities to learn from them. To hear their stories. To ask the questions about life – and their lives — a child doesn’t dare or even know to ask. If we see our grandparents frequently, as I did, we take them for granted and find it hard to picture them as anything other than as they are.
The answers would have been sanitized for my little ears regardless. I know that my grandmother was the most beautiful girl in their community and, in 1916, when they married, my grandfather was the most eligible bachelor around — handsome, with a good job, an automobile and a reputation as a solid, hard-working man. He was nearly 10 years older.
She had a high school education, rare for the time, while he had started in the local coal mines at the age of 10. A strict teetotaler, she belonged to her church’s temperance union chapter. He liked to slip away for a beer now and again.
(When I was little, sometimes on a Saturday afternoon, he’d take me to visit the big green parrot at Maggie’s while he indulged in just the one in the barroom next door to the bird’s living area . It was a three-way conspiracy, of course, an early version of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” since my grandmother knew where that Max the parrot lived.)
What must their first meeting have been like? I know where it happened – she was a clerk in the company store. But what did they say? She was a quiet woman when I knew her, and he was a man of few words. Both loved to read, so maybe he had come in to buy a magazine or a newspaper. More likely, he bought tobacco. He loved his pipe.
Did he sweep her off her feet or did he have to court her, slowly and patiently? Did he have to chase other suitors off or was she too aloof in her shyness and refined tastes to attract any? She frequently visited relatives in the big city, after all. Did she flirt with him? Is it even possible to imagine two such reserved people flirting?
What did their families think of this marriage between an English immigrant’s town-dwelling son and the daughter of a German-American carpenter/farmer? His father left Yorkshire in the 1870s to settle in western Pennsylvania. Her grandfather, though born in Prussia, had enlisted in the Union Army and was a local Civil War hero.
I don’t know the answers, so I invent stories about their lives based on the few “facts” and fading photos I have. For the next few weeks, I’m going to pose the questions I never got to ask and share some of their stories here.
I’d love to hear your stories as well.