TITLE: My Grandmother's Secert
By Iris VanDeventer-Whitney
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My Grandmother’s Secret
My poor little grandmother, I never would have believed she carried a secret all her life,
never revealing it to any family member, or at least not to the ones who are alive at this
My grandmother lived to be 101years, 4 months, and 23 days, giving many years to her
family; to learn of her, to spend time with her, and to become quite a legend in our
family. We called her a Banty Rooster; she was independent to the bone. She lived alone
until she was ninety-one, at which time she suffered a broken hip, and was placed in a
nursing home to recuperate.
My grandmother, whom we called Maw-Ma, was what we called a ‘brooder.’
Things weighed heavily on her mind, so that in later years, unpleasant things that
happened were not told to her. A common theme was, “don’t tell Mother, because she
will only brood about it.”
Maw-Ma grew from a young child to adulthood, during the influence of the societal
mores in the late 1800’s, so I believe it was the cause of a deep hurt in her life. This story
of my grandmother revolves around the societal mores of that day and the effect it had
not only my grandmother, but on me as well.
When she was nine years old, Maw-Ma’s father died, she then went to live with several
relatives; while two brothers, one five and one three years of age, lived at their mother’s
home. Why she, alone, was sent to live with relatives I don’t know, however her time
was divided between an aunt and uncle and her grandparent’s homes.
Maw-Ma had ‘fond memories’ of her Uncle Tom, and she wrote a poignant
poem in which she recalled her memories of the time she spent in her grandparent’s
Somewhere in this time frame she acquired a solid idea of what society expected of
ladies. I’m certain some of those societal fallacies were passed on to my mother, who in
turn passed them on to me. A childhood memory comes to mind, which I think will
explain, or illustrate my point of view.
While my family was visiting my grandmother at her home; which was called the ‘the big
house,’ I was sitting on my grandmother’s lap, when I asked her, “Maw-Ma, why don’t
you and Paw-Pa live together anymore?” I still wonder about that! Well, my
grandmother told me in no uncertain terms that ‘nice little girls don’t ask questions
like that.’ I was four years old at the time. I can still hear the tone of her voice!
Maw-Ma’s use of that term, ‘nice girls don’t’ is one term I’m sure she had heard
many times as growing from a child into womanhood. I believe it was defining force in
her life when she had to make a heart-breaking decision; at twenty-five years of age, as a
divorcee and with two girls in her care.
During the biggest share of her life, my grandmother suffered from near-blindness, in her
later years she saw only shadows; identifying family members by their voice. However,
that didn’t deter her from keeping her lifelong passion of journal keeping. The later
writings being almost undecipherable, as the letters lost their form and were often without
form at all, fortunately, there is one granddaughter who was adept at unraveling the
meanings, so that Maw-Ma’s writings became readable to us.
Maw-Ma’s journal is the means by which I came to learn about a turning point
in her life. Her entries were filled with news of visitors, seasons of the year, families, and
especially, her chickens; and as well, she supplied all the current events of the day.
It sounds quite benign doesn’t it? However, one day after being disturbed by a dream she
had in the in the night, she made an entry which I feel was quite revealing, she wrote
about her remembrances and regrets, and wondered about ‘the road not taken’ It was
dated July 11, 1967. She was eighty-nine years old.
The journal entered into my life in a round-about way. In July, 2008, a family reunion
was planned, and as some of cousins hadn’t seen each other for over sixty years, it was to
be a special event. A cookbook was put together with favorite recipes which were
submitted by anyone, wishing to enter a recipe. The cookbook was a memorable occasion
for all the cousins, as well as to honor my little grandmother so excerpts of her journal
entries were entered at the bottom of the recipe pages. Never could I have imagined what
lay in wait for me to discover, as I anticipated reading that historical journal!
Here I am late in life myself, and I am feeling sad and hurt because of what my
grandmother entered on that July 19, 1967, journal entry. Was part of my hurt due to the
fact I had experienced what she described? Was I relating to, and applying the things she
mentioned, to myself? Does anyone think of their grandmother in terms of being in love;
of suffering a broken heart?? I know I never thought about it at all, she was my
grandmother, aren’t they different people?
When finding out the part society had in causing pain to Maw-Ma. I became furious.
How dare any one force their own beliefs on a whole nation of women? I was forced to
start writing my grandmother’s story to show how the most innocence intentions by a
group of self-righteous people can cause a complete change in another’s life.
Not only, does societal mores change lives, it can cause a heart to be broken and
damaged. It may mend after a time. However, it does leave a scar, and scar tissue never
leaves, it remains waiting for an opportune time to emerge. It can be brought forth by a
thought, a word, or a deed, but in this case it was a dream which reopened the sadness
and hurt into my grandmother’s life when she was eighty-nine years old. Her name is
Would you care to join me as I begin a journey into the events that changed my
grandmother’s life forever? I will start with a part of her journal entry dated July 11,
1967. Remember, she is 89 years old.
Lela’s Journal Entry
Tuesday, July 11, 1967
Last night I had a dream about a boy I went with 64 years ago this summer, we were yet
End of Chapter One
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