Recently my friend Amy Crow, who writes No Story Too Small, challenged others to join her in writing about our ancestors each week. Since I’ve been wanting to write more about my family on a regular basis I thought this was a prime opportunity to step up to the plate. So here we go!
My first ancestor that I’ve chosen to write about is my paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann Clifford Alford. I’ve written about her before, but this time I’m going to focus on what I remember of her as a person and what I’ve learned over the years. She passed away in 2008 and since then I’ve learned more about her than in the thirty-one years I had known her. My first post about her passing was Margaret Ann Clifford (1925-2008) and then recently I wrote Margaret Clifford- High School Grad when I unearthed some documents and photos from her younger years. Sad to say, but lesson learned and I am now doing more to have meaningful conversations and relationships with my parents. Sometimes when you lose someone that’s what happens.
On to my recollections!
My childhood was one of being shuffled around from house to house. My parents divorced when I was four years old and so I was often taken to my grandparents’ houses as trading off points. I didn’t mind at all because at each house there were people who loved me and wanted to hear all about my day. I felt very loved. Going to my dad’s parents house was no exception. Grandma was someone who I could count on to be there and she always encouraged me. I was a pretty easy kid to care for since I was happiest sitting down with a book or coloring a picture. There were many times that I sat at the kitchen table coloring away while Grandma would play solitaire or watch t.v.
Grandma (or Marge as adults called her) was always a large woman. She had her battles with weight as many women do, but she always remained on the heavy side. It didn’t matter to me of course. I didn’t care what she looked like. I remember her wearing colorful polyester dresses with flowers all over them and her hair eventually become a lovely white. I remember that she always had lipstick on and would reapply throughout the day. She was a smoker and loved to drink her Diet Rite out of the tall glass bottles that are now obsolete. When I would come over she would offer me a pop and I would enjoy the sweet flavor of the drink. At home, my mom was a bit of a health food person so the sweets were rare. Hence how much I loved going to grandma’s house where I could get a pop and sometimes candy or cookies! Perhaps this explains my fascination with sweets to this day?
Grandma’s house was small with the main area being a living room and kitchen. It was a long narrow house that had just two bedrooms and a bathroom. Grandma and Grandpa always slept in separate rooms. At the time I didn’t really think much of that, but as I grew older I wondered why they didn’t just get divorced like my parents had. I knew they were both pretty unhappy since Grandma used to criticize him all the time and I can’t imagine that was a positive atmosphere. Their relationship puzzled me right up to the end. It wasn’t till I spoke with Dad about it later that I learned of their challenges over the years. Grandpa had left her a couple of times and left Grandma to raise Dad and she had to work to keep them housed and fed. Her resentment of him seems pretty understandable looking back now. I had always thought that she was the mean one. Now I know that they were both human beings with their own issues. Funny how time gives you that perspective.
Since I spent a lot of time with Grandma (Grandpa worked at the Post Office and was usually not at home till late) we would get into a routine. If the weather was nice I would go outside and play in the yard or walk over to Great Grandma Clifford’s house and visit there. Or I would sit with Grandma and watch her soap operas with her. I can’t remember which ones she used to watch. I mainly remember sitting and watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Grandma always impressed me with how she would rattle off the answers. I knew she was smart, but sometimes when I would sit there and she’d figure out the words on Wheel I was just amazed. I always thought that if she were to get on one of those shows she would kick some serious butt. Grandma had a sarcastic sense of humor which is where my dad and I got ours. She was funny and witty and though she would pick on my Grandpa; I admired her. I doubt she ever knew that since we all didn’t talk about our feelings much.
In 1982, my mom remarried and we moved to Ohio. I was so sad to be far away from all that I had known and all the people who I loved there in South Bend, Indiana. I was happy on those occasions where Dad or Grandma would drive down to Mom’s house to get me for a few months in the summer or over part of the Christmas break. The drives were tedious sometimes, but I enjoyed being back in South Bend even if all my friends had moved on. I was able to be with my family and that meant a lot to me.
Right before high school my grandparents took me on a very special trip. We drove across the US to see as many national landmarks as possible! I slept a lot of the way, but they would wake me up when there was something cool to see. We visited the Corn Palace, the Badlands, Yellowstone, Redwoods, the Pacific Ocean, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Grand Canyon, and visited Hot Springs, Arkansas where my Grandpa’s family lived. It was a trip with lots of arguments between Grandma and Grandpa, but most of all it was a fun time. To this day I still talk about that trip with people and encourage them to drive across America. It really made me appreciate this country.
My senior year in high school I began to have a lot of feelings of resentment toward my dad. I saw the relationships that others had and was jealous. So I wrote a rather scathing letter to my dad and apparently my grandma read it. She was pissed. It wasn’t until I was away in college a few years that I apologized to my dad and we started working it out. Then gradually grandma and I began to talk again. We were never quite as close as we had been though. I wish that I had reached out to her and tried to get to know her now that I was an adult. But hindsight is 20-20 as they say.
Eventually Grandma had a stroke and she could no longer communicate. This was a horrible thing to see her go through. She was always so full of piss and vinegar and now she was dependent on others. She could say, “No” and “I don’t know”, but nothing more. It was really sad. The only good thing that came out of it was that my Grandpa was so patient and wonderful with her. You could see the love that he had for her. It was very touching. When it got to the point where Grandma needed to be in a nursing home to get the proper care, Grandpa would go see her almost every day he could. Then Grandpa needed to be in the home too and he would wheel her to meals and try to keep her occupied. It was saddest when Grandpa died after complications from a surgery. She died a little over a month afterwards. I think she had given up on living. They may have had a pretty difficult relationship, but even so they each loved the other through it all.
Next time, I’ll share some stories of Grandpa Alford.
- Goal Words for 2014: Balance, Savor, Focus
- 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Billie Thomas Alford