Thursday, February 9, 2012

33 Years Ago...Today

My family lost my great grandmother 33 years ago on the night before my 12th birthday.  Prior to that day 33 years ago – I had three great grandmothers, two grandmothers, a great grandfather, and a grandfather.  I lost my last grandmother just over a month ago and my own mother over six years ago.  The next morning as I walked into the kitchen – two of my favorite uncles were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, when my mother jumped up and hugged me and wished me a happy birthday.  After hugs and kisses from my uncles, I noticed the red rimmed eyes and for the first time in my life – I noticed true sorrow on their faces and you might say I turned a corner towards adulthood.

Mom & Pop Friddle with Claude - about 1950
I read one time that a child thinks of themself first and an adult thinks of someone else before themselves.  For a normal birthday there was always a bit of excitement when I was a child, because my mother always made a big deal about birthdays.  On this birthday, she explained to me that we would celebrate my birthday in a few days…after the funeral.  I understood but at first was a bit disappointed.  When I saw my uncle’s faces that morning and that of my mother – I think I understood for the first time that we had lost a special person in our family and things were going to be forever different.  My great grandmother was gone – and I understood that two sons and a daughter lost their mother, grandchildren lost their beloved grandma and great grandchildren lost their great grandmother.  In my small world – I finally understood the impact of death.

Mom Friddle was born in 1894 and had her oldest son, Jack, when she was 15 years old.  In some ways, they grew up together.  She and Jack made that trip out from Tennessee together and lived up in that shack on Grouse Flats together.  When Grandma Cappy was born – she welcomed a daughter who would forever be a confidante and helper.  Mom Friddle had her youngest son, Claude, when she was 30 years old…and by that point was a different person than that 15 year old girl who had become a mother to Jack.  When my mother and her sister were born, Mom Friddle felt that she was much too young to be called Grandma…and so she became Mom.  (They always called their mother Momma)  By the time the first of her great grandchildren were born – she finally accepted being called Grandma.  When I knew her, she was somewhat crippled by the broken hip that she had suffered and the constant tick in her neck, although – she was one of the most fascinating people in my childhood. 

Mom Friddle's Grave at Normal Hill Cemetery.
The next day (February 10th) we had a graveside service for Mom Friddle.  Somehow I ended up standing by my Uncle Claude as they conducted the service.  As I saw him sadly smiling, I slipped my hand into his trying to give him some comfort.  I don’t think I understood what that meant until the day of my own mother’s funeral.  That simple gesture was my first step into adulthood.  I recognized that he, Jack & Grandma Cappy had lost their mother.  I couldn’t really conceive of how hard that must be.  My mother lost her beloved grandmother – the woman who she talked to almost every day telling her the funny stories of raising four children.  Mom Friddle giggled over every one of our exploits and provided my mother and father with much needed counseling and advice on many occasions.  This dynamic person was gone from our lives…she might have been old and ready to go – but she was still someone’s mother, sister, grandmother, great grandmother and friend. 

I put some artificial flowers on my great grandmother’s grave on Wednesday – the 33rd year since her death. As I looked down at her grave – I marveled that it had been so many years since we had lost her and thought of all that had happened to me since then.  I thought of losing my grandmother and my mother and those two wonderful uncles.  I remembered how thrilled I was on that day so long ago when I first saw the house that she grew up in.  My mother helped me make her a real person through her stories.  My childhood memories are somewhat dim – but what I do remember helped make me the person I am today.  My love of history came from listening to her stories and experiences.  All of these wonderful people helped make me become the person I am today…and I am grateful for the good fortune that I had for knowing them.