As many of my readers know, I’m working on a piece of historical fiction based on the life of my maternal grandmother. What started out as a simple plan to solve a few family mysteries on my mother’s side of the family turned into a full-blown project.
My grandmother, Cora, was someone I didn’t really like. The more I learned about what she put my mom and her siblings through, the more I disliked her. I loved her, because she was family, but I disliked her because of the choices she made. The only thing I really liked about her were the animals she took in to save from harm. I also liked reading the trashy magazines she picked up at the grocery store. She thought the Moon landing was faked, and she was greatly offended if someone even joked that professional wrestling was scripted.
Grandma Cora lied a lot, too. She was forever making up stuff about her heritage, Mom’s biological father, and her own life. I took a DNA test years ago to try and figure out how much of my alleged heritage was real, and how much was pure crap.
Genetically, my heritage proved Grandma Cora was making stuff up, but it also revealed some unexpected ancestry. It also put me in touch with my mother’s one and only biological sister, who was given up for a closed adoption about a year before my own mother was born. That made it worth the sadness at learning that Grandma Cora was making stuff up.
After a woman named Destiny contacted me to try and find out how we were related, I started doing a deep dive to piece together what I could about my family, especially because it looked like Destiny was a relative through my mother’s family.
What I found didn’t make me like Grandma Cora more than I had previously, but it gave me a greater understanding of why she made up so many things.
The truth of her life was a hell of a lot stranger and sadder than fiction.
She was orphaned when she was three years old. Her father died a few months after an industrial accident, right before her third birthday, and her mother died a few months later of cancer. Her siblings were placed with her father’s much older sister and her husband, and her aunt seemed to have an irrational hatred of her.
That hatred drove her to leave their farm at age 14 to live and work in Mexico Missouri. She was 19 when she had her first child, and custody of that baby was ripped from her by the court on the grounds that she, as a single working woman, was an unfit mother, and given to her married cousin. She had another child at 20 and gave her up for adoption. When she had my mother at age 21, she chose to keep her, come hell or high water. For reasons unknown to even my mother, she named my mother after the cousin who got custody of her son.
It wasn’t too long after my mother was born that my grandmother met and married her first husband, a mechanic. Their first child together died when the doctor delivering the child crushed her skull with the forceps. Their second child was delivered with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and had cerebral palsy as a result. My grandmother suffered at least two miscarriages before she had her two youngest children. Just before her youngest child was born, the cousin who got custody of her oldest son died in a car accident while driving home from work late at night.
My grandmother’s marriage was not a happy or peaceful one. She made some choices that traumatized all of her children. I still don’t understand why, but I’m trying to. I loathe her so much for what she allowed to be done to my mother as a child. I’m a mother myself, and I love my husband with all of my heart. If he did even half of what was done to my mother to one of my children, he would be GONE. The part of me that fiercely protects my children cannot comprehend WHY she would put anything above the well-being of a child she chose to keep.
Anyway, I doubt anyone was too sad when her first husband died at age 45 of a heart attack after suffering a coronary the previous year. Grandma Cora got married to husband number two a little over three weeks after her first husband died. He was a decent enough guy. My mother ended up marrying his brother 2 years later, and they were married for 20 years.
As for my grandma, she stayed married to her second husband, my future uncle, until she died at age 66 of a heart attack.
Anyway, there’s a lot there. The more I dig, the more I learn, and the more I learn, the more I understand. I probably won’t ever like her for the choices she made, but at least I’ll have a greater understanding of why she made them.