My grandmother was one of 11 children and grew up in County Cork, Ireland. She was one of the younger of the brood. It was common during that time …. around 1918, when families had many children for several reasons: to help farm land, to help with chores and raise the other children, to ensure that a family would have some children that would live to adulthood due to the great many children that often died from simple, common illnesses because medicine had not progressed as far as it has today and finally, to send the children out to work and have the children send home their earnings to help support the family.
My grandmother, Rose, fell into the last category. At the age of 11, she was sent away from her home and family to live with another family that was wealthy to be a maid. Actually, my grandmother was to be one of the several maids that the wealthy family had, and she was an apprentice maid. She worked for the family until she reached the age of 18. All of her earnings went directly to her parents. Grandma Rose never saw a cent of her earnings. But she was careful. She misered away money that she earned on the side on her days off. With this money, Grandma Rose took a boat at age 18 to America.
Ireland was not in good condition in the years around 1918 when my Grandmother left. There was great political unrest and the country was very poor. Women, as in so very many cultures, were treated as second-hand, disposable citizens. It has only been in recent years that Ireland has acknowledged the travesty of child labor and is making efforts to rectify wrongs.
Grandma Rose met my Grandfather William Higgins, who was a radio operator in the tip-top tower of the Empire State Building, and he too had only recently immigrated to the USA from Ireland also. Like many new, frightened immigrants, they quickly married and held on to each other tight. They started a family shortly thereafter.
My Grandfather does not stand out in my memory. He did not talk much, was stoic and generally unfriendly. My Grandmother doted on me as I was the firstborn grandchild, and she especially adored the fact that I was smart. This was a gift to me since my own mother did not like me.
I miss my Grandmother still. On Mother’s Day, it is my Grandmother who I remember most. Grandma Rose bought me my clothes for school every year, my winter coat, gave me money for school trips and gave me refuge from the hellhole I lived in with my mother.
When she became more elderly, Grandma Rose sold her house and moved into a garden apartment development designed for the elderly. She hated it. She regretted selling her house. She died shortly thereafter.
Many years later, I was with one of my sisters in Grandma Rose’s old neighborhood. I said, let’s drive by the house. We did. I said, let’s ring the bell and ask if we can see the house. My sister, MaryAnn, said….no, no, no. I did it anyway. A teenage girl answered. I explained who I was and why I was there. She was so kind….of course, come in. I waved to my sister, who was shrinking down in the car. We went in. The house had been renovated and completely changed but OH! it was all there for me. I could feel Grandma and all the memories and moments come back. It was a wonderful experience….a truly special moment.
What does it hurt to ask? Ring a bell my friends! Grab your moments! The worst that can happen is that the other person will say “no”, and that’s ok! But try.
Life is good.