Marvin the Bear and Other Nibbles
Women Of The Sixties

Sometimes I Wonder About Their Lives

GrammawebThis photograph was taken in 1911 -- that's my great-grandmother on the left, my aunt (at age 3) in the middle, and my grandmother on the right. Marto the dog is on the porch, there behind my great-grandmother.

I love looking at these photos. My mom has lots of them, from daguerrotypes of long-forgotten cousins and uncles and aunts to these early snapshots. My theory is that my grandfather must have taken these snaps, because there isn't a single picture with him in it.  Mom neither confirms nor denies this, so at this point it's still just a theory.

I wonder about my great-grandmother's life sometimes. She had six children: four girls and two boys. The little girls were all born within seven years, from 1877 to 1884. My gramma was the third, born in 1883.

But in 1886, the four little girls all came down with whooping cough and measles. Within one month, three were dead; only my gramma survived. My great-grandfather recorded all the details in the family bible, in perfect Edwardian script. So precise, yet so ornate, a record of grief.

The two boys were born much later, when my gramma was a teenager. I think they must have been change-of-life babies for my great-grandmother. Their births are recorded as well, in the same spidery handwriting.

I wonder about my gramma's life sometimes. I only knew her when she was old -- she was already 69 when I was born; my grandfather had been dead for years. She was 28 when this photograph was taken. She married at 24 -- old for her day. Her husband was 16 years older. Did she think it was her last chance? Was she really in love with him? I have no idea; we didn't discuss such things.

Only once did I get a glimpse into her private self. When I was 15, I was sitting in the kitchen, rhapsodizing over my first boyfriend, talking about how we would get married when I was 18, and it would be so wonderful, la-la-la, when my gramma turned around from the stove and said, "Let me tell you something, sex isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Thank God she was wrong.