My grandmother's photograph

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I never knew either of my grandmothers. Both of them died young, years before I was even born.

I've seen one photograph of my paternal grandmother (more on that in a bit) and until this weekend I had seen one grainy photo of my maternal grandmother.

Then, Saturday night, my Facebook feed showed an old black-and-white photo of a pleasant, attractive young woman. My aunt was tagged in the photo and she commented that the young woman was her mother -- my grandmother Juanita.

I was struck by how happy she seemed to be in the picture, and how much she resembled my mom. I'm not sure when the photo was taken, but my grandmother looked to be in her early 20s. She died of lupus in 1964, when she was just 38 years old.

The photo that was posted on Facebook showed up sideways on the page, and my aunt commented that she couldn't figure out how to turn it so that it posted properly. I was able to download the photo onto my phone and rotate it, then post it to my own page.

My grandfather and my grandmother were both married more than once, and between them they had 18 children. My mom was the youngest of five full sisters. My aunt, the oldest, is the only one of the sisters still alive and most of the half-siblings are gone as well. Because of the sheer size of the family, we weren't particularly close-knit; in fact, that's an understatement. I had aunts and uncles whom I met only a handful of times, and I couldn't begin to name all my cousins.

My dad's mother also died young, of kidney failure. She was a diabetic and although my dad didn't talk about her much, my mom would sometimes allude to the fact that Dad had to give her insulin shots when he was a teenager.

My dad was a big man and a solemn guy. He did have a sense of humor, but it wasn't on display very often. And I recall seeing my dad cry very few times. The first time was when a Great Dane broke loose from a chain and killed our two dogs while we were at school. Later, I saw Dad cry only at a couple of funerals and when my mother died. The only other time I saw him cry was when I was a teenager. I had been disrespectful to my mom and Dad came down hard on me. Mom commented that when Dad was my age, he didn't have a mother. My dad broke down in tears, a sight I will never forget.

Several years later, I was buying flowers for my mom on Mother's Day when an older woman approached me in the store.

"What is your last name?" she asked me. I told her, and she responded: "I'm your grandmother's sister."

To my astonishment, she pulled an envelope out of her purse. There was a picture of my grandmother, some old birth announcements and even a newspaper clipping with my picture. After my grandmother's death, she said, they gradually lost touch with my grandfather.

We visited for a few minutes and I promised to give Dad the photo.

When I got to my parents' house, showed them the photo and told them the story, they were just as astonished as I had been. The fact that all this happened on Mother's Day made it even more difficult to believe. Maybe it was just a coincidence; maybe it wasn't.

I can't say that I have ever missed my grandmothers in the conventional sense; I never knew them. But even today, when I hear someone my age refer to spending time with their grandmother I wonder what that must be like. My own mom died way too young, as well, but I'm grateful that my sons were able to know her and will always have those memories.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com