Saturday, May 07, 2011
The Grandmother I Never Met
Many of us on Facebook have posted photographs of our mothers and/or our grandmothers just in time for Mother's Day. I posted the old phot shown here, a long-time favorite of mine. Here my grandmother Edythe is holding my mother Kaye in 1914 when Mother was about a year old. Notice the steam tractor in the background.
Unfortunately, I never met my Grandmother. She died of typhoid within a year of when this photograph was taken. Mother's memories of her were sketchy and my grandfather didn't see fit to speak of Edythe, to fill in the gaps in the family history. One commenter on Facebook says my eyes and my grandmother's eyes are the same. That pleases me.
Edythe, ever the enigma, was the inspiration behind protagonist David Ward's grandmother in my novel Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey. He never knew her either. When David is standing at the summit of a mountain after a long climb, he can almost see the spot where his grandmother was born in Montana. (The real Edythe lived in Illinois.) And he imagines her this way:
Edythe, ‘the contrary side of the sibling coin’ who was five years older heard more distant drums from the outside world, brought to her by the National Geographic’s pictures of exotic lands, Sam Griffith dashing out the front door of the post office with the latest mail from far away, and Tom Nolan blowing the whistle on the narrow gauge steam engine running the Turkey Track from Lethbridge to Great Falls hauling Canadian coal. Edythe bolted from the house when she was barely old enough to blush and stormed 142 miles southwest—as ravens fly—into her young future before she died of typhoid next to a small well outside the greater circle of David’s horizons.
The real Edythe died outside my horizons, and I will always wonder about her, with eyes like mine watching from this old photograph.