I must have been told early on that I had only one grandmother, and that one grandmother was Mammo, who was my mother’s mother. The reason for this was because my father’s mother died in 1920 during the influenza epidemic that swept the world like a giant tsunami wake, killing millions. She was 34 years old when she died and pregnant with her fifth child, a baby who would have grown up to be my aunt or uncle.
I didn’t miss the grandmother I never knew. In fact, I remember thinking that being partially grandmotherless made me interesting, having someone who should have been something to me die before she ever had the pleasure of meeting me. It was the only sad part of my family’s history as far as I knew, so I believed it added a tragic element to my otherwise boring short biography
In my child mind, I never thought about my daddy or my aunts and the fact that they’d lived most of their lives without a mother and how hard it must have been for them. That’s because when I met them they were my grown up daddy and aunts and they seemed just fine.
It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realized what a sad thing it was that my grandmother wasn’t given a life long enough to see her children grow up. And it wasn’t until I became a grandmother that I was able to see what my own grandmother missed and what I missed never having had the chance to love her, to sit in her lap as she recounted her own memories, telling me I looked just like she did at my age.
My daddy and his sisters didn’t talk much about their mother. The only story I recall my father telling was one about his mama being all dressed up to go out and his pitching a fit, causing her to cancel her plans. My aunts, who were only five, three, and one when their mother died sadly had very few first-hand recollections of her and just a couple of photographs, one of which was her wedding picture.
When my father passed away in 1994, I was still young enough not to have given much thought to the family stories he could have told me. Not asking more questions when I had the opportunity is one of the things I regret most when it comes to all members of my family who have passed on. Although two of my aunts are still living, it’s difficult to get them to remember and share family stories. I've learned that I can’t be pushy. I have to be patient and wait for a memory to come as they rest in their revery.
Just recently, my Aunt Madge, in a flash of clarity, confided that my father had, as a seven-year-old boy, stood by himself at the window of his bedroom and watched as the wagon from the livery stable his father owned carried his mother’s body away.
That tiny glimpse into my father’s sad childhood just about broke my heart.