May 21, 2001

My mom is 68 years old today, an accomplishment for which I'm truly thankful. Twenty years ago last month her mother suffered a major heart attack and passed away, less than a week shy of her 68th birthday.

That was an incredibly hard thing. Just six months earlier my grandmother's mother, our little Mamaw, had passed away at the age of 92. Mamaw's death was sad and upsetting and full of mourning not at all unexpected -- she'd been frail for years. Grandmother's, on the other hand, was a major shock, a major disappointment. I think all of us expected her to be around for at least another 10 or 15 years, but it didn't work out that way.

The women in my mother's family have damned hard lives, which isn't at all surprising for girls who grow up poor in the rural South.

My great-grandmother, Pearl Zanetta Shaddix Grogan, married my great-grandfather, Abslum Sylvester Warren Grogan, in the early 1900s, when she was 19 or 20. A couple of years later she saw her first child and only son, Braxton, die of typhoid when he was only two. As a young mother with four daughters (my grandmother, Opal, and my aunts Pearl, Ruby and Beatrice) she had everything she owned destroyed in a house fire. Then came the Depression, then World War II. Did she wonder if things would ever get better?

My grandmother, Opal Grogan Mann Stewart, didn't have it any easier. When she was 24 her husband was killed in a so-called "hunting accident" (everyone in our part of the family always maintained that it was anything but accidental), leaving her a widow with three young children, the youngest, my Uncle Ted, barely a month old.

After World War II she married Harvey Stewart, who was apparently a good-looking fella, and had one more child, my Aunt Linda, who is 14 years younger than my mother. No one ever filled me in on all the details but it's pretty apparent that Harvey had a temper and expressed it with his fists. When Linda was only two or three, Grandmother left her second husband and went back to live with her parents in Ironaton, Ala. Just a few years later, her beloved son Cecil, a private in the US Army, was killed in a car accident on an icy, dark road in rural Tennessee -- he was on his way back to Ironaton to belatedly celebrate his 20th birthday.

After she moved back "home" with little Mamaw and Papaw and Aunt Bea (who never married) Grandmother went to work. She was good with numbers and she worked as a bookkeeper for any number of businesses in and around Talladega, Ala. For the longest time, she worked for Talladega Lumber & Supply, finally retiring in 1975. Less than six years later she was gone.

As for my mom...

Well, she married my dad. And then stuck with him -- for more than 30 years. I've often wondered what that was all about. The fact that her father died when she was only four years old? Not wanting to go through the same thing her mother did, going back home to live with her parents?

It's sad to say that my mom didn't really start enjoying her life until after my dad died. It's true, even so. And then, finally, she found Ron. As far as I can tell, he's the one she was always looking for. Last year, after five or more years as a couple, they decided to tie the knot -- the week before her birthday.

So it's not just birthday time for my mom, it's also first anniversary time.

I couldn't be happier for her.


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