Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"We're not the ones meant to follow"

And, again, more history...

Now I do know why I know a lot about my one maternal great-grandmother...she left a diary. I've read through it more than once - even used it as source material for a history class.

Her name was Mary and she was born to Swedish immigrant parents in Houghton, Michigan. They moved shortly after she was born to Duluth, Minnesota where my great-great-grandfather worked as a carpenter, building houses in the growing shipping town. She had an old sister named Anna who, perhaps, had autism, and only lived to be about age 13.

They next moved to central Minnesota, where my g-g-grandfather homesteaded some land and farmed. It was probably a fairly typical life for that time, working at home, going to school, occassionally getting into town. In her teens, Mary became enamored of John. She was actually caught kissing John by a neighbor when she was 16! A fast girl, she was...

John eventually asked Mary's father for his permission to marry, and they were giving the family blessing. I don't think that Mary was even 18 at this point. John, it turned out, was not much for farming and while Mary spent most of the next couple decades pregnant and having children, John tried his hands at a number of ventures. He tried farming, owned a store, he was postmaster for the town, he worked for the railroad - sometimes all of these at once.

Mary had 12 live births. She doesn't in her diary say anything about any miscarriages, but it wouldn't surprise me. Dreamy romantic me once said to my mother, "She really must have loved John." My mother looked back sharp-eyed, and said, "When I asked grandma why she had so many children, she told me you don't say no to your husband."

John, it seems, was not always a pleasant man to be around, and the pressures of a growing family coupled with uncertain financial security probably didn't help. But he was destined not to be the star of this family drama anyway. Shortly after their youngest child was born, he was walking the railroad tracks back home and miscalculated the tracks that the daily train would be coming on. He was struck from behind, and despite being rushed to the nearest town by the same train, he died.

Mary's eldest sons were in their teens (4 boys and 8 girls), but within a year of John dying, one of her sons was also dead. Driving in a car past a neighbors farm house, the neighbor fired a rifle at the car (by mistake supposedly) and her son was shot and killed. Then again in the same year, her youngest daughter came down with diptheria and the doctor, mistaking it for tonsilitis, removed her tonsils. Given that it was diptheria, it probably saved the other young children in the family to have little Grace taken away. My maternal grandmother was one of those little ones.

Mary took over as postmistress in John's stead, and the older children worked. My gr-grandmother turned into a somewhat controlling matriarch...being a single mother of 11 children is never easy, but pre-WWII... There are rumors that she stored kegs of liquor in the cellar during prohibition, and my mother knows that she hoarded sugar and other luxuries during the war years to sell off for a little extra money. When a son-in-law started beating her daughter and no one would interfere, she was called for and, so my mother tells it, "she put the fear of God in that man."

She lived with my mother and her sister and parents for the rest of her life.

She lived into her 80s. There is a picture of me as a wee baby, sitting in her lap, a few of her other great-grandchildren also gathered around...but of course, I don't remember her. But I'm forever grateful that she left a record of her life. She lived an extraordinary life - not one entirely of her choosing, perhaps, but extraordinary all the same.

8 comments:

Hyde said...

You're so lucky you have that diary! But just think of our descendents. I keep my blog all printed out in a binder. Family history will never be the same!

:)

-h

the urban fox said...

Fascinating. What an amazing treasure that diary is. I bet she had no idea it would be so interesting to her descendants when she was writing it either.

thephoenixnyc said...

I love reading geneologies and family histories. Thanks for sharing yours. Interesting stuff.

Charby said...

What a fantastic story and all the more amazing cos it's true.

It makes me wonder if any of my descendants will read my blog after and wonder about me...

Fred said...

I really wish I could look at the writings of my grandparents. You're very lucky to have that material.

In some goofy way, this post hits on why I'm blogging. It's therapy for me, hopefully, history for others.

Aravis said...

I so enjoyed reading this, and catching a glimpse into the past. You really brought it all to life, especially your great-great grandmother!

red one said...

Amazing to have a diary from someone who is connected to you but has had a different life in a different time...

nice post, Spin.

red

ps I got the "forbidden" thing on your blog today. Blogger is obviously struggling a bit.

Carol Gee said...

You honor your ancestor by telling us herstory/history. I have my great grandmother's paisley shawl hanging on display in my room. It kept her warm on cold days; it keeps me warm in the knowledge that she, too, was a gritty survivor, like your foremother.