Grandma Julie - "Ma"
Great-Grandma Julie came from County Cork,
married her husband,
who was working on laying track
for the first railroad to cross North America.
There were still ruts in the ground near their house
in northern Montana, that had been
made by covered wagons,
not too long before.
It was a harsh and make-do life:
travel by horseback,
even through 30 below snowstorms,
tend the fields with horse and plough,
tend animals, grow gardens, preserve food,
and hope it lasts the winter,
haul water, wash laundry - and oneself -
in tin washtubs with a bar of yellow soap,
build your cabin of logs by hand,
give birth to your babies at home and pray they lived.
Some of them didn't.
My grandma told me stories
about her mother and father:
how her father doted on my grandma,
who was his youngest child,
and how he sat in his brother's kitchen and cried
when she left home to marry.
My Grandma - age thirteen - "Floss"
She told me about the night
she and her mother fled in terror
to the barn,
when Pa got drunk and
danced with the moonshine jug
in the kitchen,
before firing off random shots
in the direction of the barn
where they cowered in terror,
till he finally fell asleep.
She could laugh about it by then,
the big man, dancing with the jug.
But my Grandma always hated "the drink" after that.
Still, it got handed down through all the generations,
and is alive and well today.
Or the time when Ma sent Dolly to town
on Punch to pick up the mail.
The snow was deep and Punch didnt want to go,
rearing and whinnying in his stall.
"He had an instinct," my Grandma told me, darkly.
"I should never have let her take him."
Dolly headed him along the railroad tracks
for easier passage.
The snow started falling thickly,
vision was obscured;
the train whistle blew.
Later, they could see huge leaps
where Punch tried to escape the oncoming train.
They were hit. Dolly survived. Punch did not.
Hard times, those days. Hard times.
The women were made of steel; they had to be.
My mother always called her Grandma Julie
and told how, when the girls were in their teens
and "Ma" lived with the family, in Saskatoon,
she taught them all to smoke,
and they'd line up their butts
on the window ledge and act innocent
when their mom came in to check on them.
And the time she heard a ruckus upstairs
and sent their father upstairs
with the rolled-up Saturday Evening Post
to "settle down those girls - they're disturbing Ma".
He came back down, smiling.
"They were having a pillow fight,
standing up on the beds,
and Ma was right in the thick of it!"
My sister still has a small flowered cotton dress
Grandma Julie wore back in the 30's.
My grandma, when she was in her own last years,
remembered how her mother would ask her
to do her hair and then say
"Oh I know, no time, no time, no time!"
By then, my grandma understood, in her turn,
how too busy all of her family always was,
in turn, who had so little time to spare.
We have the Irish in us:
the mischief, the cackle,
the ghosts and goblins,
the hopeless dreams, the unanswered prayers,
the resignation to our fate.
We are rife with unnamed longings
and misspent youth.
I look back at the line of strong women,
who walked here before me, with awe.
They lived through unthinkable times.
They rolled up their sleeves;
they did what was to be done: no choice.
Stoic, staunch and with cackles
edged with hysteria:
my foremothers, my clan.
My mother "Renee" and my Grandma
Such a cool prompt today from Grace at dVerse: family history