One hundred twenty-three years ago today, America was celebrating its eighth Groundhog Day and waiting to see if Punxsutawney Phil would see his shadow. In the small town of Boonton, New Jersey, my great grandparents were welcoming their first daughter into the world—my grandmother, who would grow up to raise six children of her own.
Grandma was the granddaughter of a Civil War veteran from Ireland and the daughter of a successful businessman—the proprietor of a hotel and tavern in town as well as a bottler. (I have one of his bottles in my kitchen.) Because of her father’s success, my grandmother’s family was able to enjoy several life-improving gadgets such as an electric iron and one of the first telephones in town.
During her eighty-two year life, she lived through five wars and one near miss between the Soviet Union and the United States in Cuba. She experienced great tragedy with the deaths of three siblings and her father, all prior to her twenty-third birthday.
Grandma was seventeen when the Titanic sunk and twenty-five and a young newlywed when women were given the right to vote shortly before the election of President Warren G. Harding. She and my grandfather faced very lean years during the Great Depression, but somehow, they managed to pay the bills and put food on the table despite my grandfather losing his job and working nothing but odd jobs around town for a while.
She saw the inventions of the vacuum cleaner, washing machines, talking movies, frozen food, television, the polio vaccine, and both the availability of the first automobile in 1908 and the moon landing sixty-one years later. She witnessed the legal end of segregation, the opening of Disneyland and the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King. All these advancements and events must have made her head spin.
In spite of the hardships and sadness during her lifetime, my memories of her are of a woman who was a proud mother of her six children and thirty grandchildren. She smiled a lot and complained little except for her “damn old knee.”
Happy Birthday, Grandma.