I stumbled across these old photos I scanned into the computer years ago. They tell a story of hope. Hope that a person can start over again in the middle of life. The first two photos are from my grandparents wedding day. They were in their 40’s, not far off from my age now.
In all the family lore I heard about my grandmother’s history, I never heard how my grandparents met, why they fell in love, what made my grandmother marry my grandfather.
The story that took center stage on my mother’s side of the family happened long before my mother was born. It was the story of my grandmother’s survival.
My grandmother emigrated to the United States either from Hungary or Germany–the family lived in both places–when she was about 7, if I recall correctly. I remember being told she had about a 3rd grade education, so I’m not sure if she went to school in the US after she got here. Wherever she immigrated from, her family spoke German. I know this well because many years later, when she was losing her mind, she reverted to speaking German again and couldn’t understand why no one knew what she was saying.
The story I was told was that my grandmother had 6 babies starting when she was 16 and the last when she was 24. 2 of them did not survive. When she was about 26, with 4 young daughters, she awakened one morning to find her husband dead in the bed next to her.
In the same year, her mother died and her distraught father committed suicide. Orphaned and widowed and left with 4 young children to support on her 3rd grade education, she turned to the Catholic church for support and turned her children over to a home for children so she could work as a live-in maid.
I don’t know the story as to how she got out of that line of work. What I do know is that her children remained in the Catholic home until they graduated from the 8th grade, each having to choose between becoming a nun and leaving the home at the age of 13. Only one of my aunts became a nun.
However it happened, my grandmother ended up on the church steps in these photos smiling on the second wedding day of her life. They were still poor, but my grandfather supported my grandmother, leaving her free to take care of my mother when she surprised them by appearing so late in their lives.
What this story needs is a happy ending. I’m not sure that it has one. I remember my grandparents mostly as bitter, angry people. We saw them only for about 6 days of the year most years, but their screaming arguments were what we most remembered.
Yet, my grandmother was still quick to smile and laughed often. Maybe her happiness just looked different from what I expected?