Great Grandma Julie
Dear Great Grandma Julie,
My mother loved you so much.
You were "the two Julie's",
since my mom was named Irene Julia, after you.
You came from County Cork to the New World
to escape the potato famine.
You worked hard on the farm,
milking the cows, lugging pails of water,
chopping wood, soaking laundry in tubs
on top of the wood stove.
Your husband lay track for the first railway
across the nation near your homestead in Montana.
My grandma told me how he got drunk
and danced with the jug of moonshine
in the kitchen, but then got riled
and chased you both out of the house with the rifle,
and you hid in the barn till he fell asleep on the floor.
You were both terrified but, in her nineties,
my Grandma had to laugh at the memory of him,
clutching the moonshine jug to his chest
and dancing around the kitchen.
My mom and Grandma Julie
My mom told me how you lived with her family
in Saskatoon when she and her siblings were teens.
She told me when your pension came in,
you shared your tobacco, the three sisters and you,
who all shared a room, puffing at the open window,
in the freezing Prairie winter air,
all your cigarette butts lined up
along the window ledge,
and how you all dithered about in a panic
when my grandma's footsteps sounded on the stairs,
coming up to check.
My mom said you were cool.
One night you all got wild in the bedroom,
thumps and shrieks heard from the parlor downstairs,
and my grandma sent my grandpa up
"to settle those girls down, they're disturbing Ma."
He went up, rolled up Saturday Evening Post
in his hand, silence fell,
and he came back down, smiling.
"They were having a pillow fight,
and Ma was right in the thick of it."
I am smiling, too.
Somewhere in my sister's boxes,
is your small black housedress
covered with a small floral print.
You were a tiny woman, with formidable strength,
to have come through the potato famine,
through raising kids and homesteading
at the turn of the last century.
You lived through the Depression, widowed,
going from one of your children's houses to another,
with your small black cardboard suitcase.
My Grandma loved remembering your years
with her young family.
But how she regretted the many times
she was too busy,
when you'd ask her to come do her hair,
or join her in some activity or other.
"I'd be flying around the house like a scalded chicken,
and Ma would call me - 'Florence?' - and then say
'Oh, I know: No time, no time, no time.'
How I regret that now. Now it's my own children
who are too busy and have so little time."
And now, Great Grandma Julie,
it is my turn to be old.
Because of you, my own grandma,
your daughter, and my mother,
a lot of strength runs through
these old bones of mine.
I think I have your strong, determined chin.
For sure all of the women in this family
have your strength and your spirit.
And some measure of that humor
that had you up on the bed, in your seventies,
having a pillow fight with "the girls."
for Mama Zen's cool prompt, at Real Toads, to write a letter to an ancestor, or to a future descendant. I had thought to write into the future, but Mama Zen did that to such perfection, I chose Great Grandma Julie instead.