Archive for September 2nd, 2010

I was walking through East Cleveland Township Cemetery, where my great-great uncle is buried, and I saw a number of tombstones for people who had lived 90 or more years, and I started to think about my great-grandmother.

I had the opportunity to know my maternal grandmother’s mother as a child. When I was born, I actually had three great-grandmothers still living, but by the time I was old enough to remember, there was just Great Grandma Cook. She was born in 1901 and lived to be 88 or 89.

I loved history, even as a kid. I can remember the weary look on the Gettysburg tour guide’s face when I was on a 3rd grade trip, asking if anyone else on the bus knew the answer to his latest question, other than the brown-haired, freckled girl in the front row. (The answers to those two questions were “no” and “General George Meade,” in case you’re interested.) My love of history caused me to look upon Great Grandma with awe. I could read about the history of the 20th century, but she had lived it.

I have reflected many times, both then and now, about all the things that my great grandmother had the opportunity to see and hear about – the wars, the technological innovations, the civil rights movements. She got married the same year that the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution. That same year, she buried a brother who died of tuberculosis, surely not knowing the advancements in medicine that would render such deaths rare within her lifetime. She raised a family through the Great Depression and lived through World War II just down the street from an Army base. After her husband passed away, she moved into her daughter’s home and helped raise her granddaughters, making quilts for them to take to college where they participated in the social justice movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. She dealt firsthand with the social mores of the time when her granddaughter became pregnant while still single twice – giving one child up for adoption but raising the second child as a single mother. And in between the big events I know touched her life, there must have been a million small ones – did she hear about the students at Kent State on May 4, 1970, and worry about her granddaughter participating in an anti-war protest at her own college? Did she read about the East Ohio Gas explosion and wonder about people she had known in Cleveland when she lived there a few years before? It is difficult to imagine all the things she would have seen in her 88 or so years of life, especially with as much technology and change as there was in the 20th century. So many of the tombstones for people who live to be my great-grandmother’s age or older contain nothing but the name, birth year, and death year – how little of that long life they tell…

There is no photograph for this post. My great-grandparents are buried in Parsippany, New Jersey, and I have never been to their grave.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: