I remember both my grandmothers. Alone in the photograph is my maternal grandmother, Alva Libby, née Ring, born in 1907. She died in 1982, when I was senior in high school. In the other photograph, portrayed with her sister, is my paternal grandmother, Thelma Rogers, née Chadwick. She lived from 1905 to 1998. She is the girl wearing glasses.
Alva came from a poor family of farmers in central Maine, and she was the youngest of three sisters. However, her mother passed away when she was twelve years old, and both her older sisters died when she was in her teens. So she lost the three closest members of her family within a few years. As a young adult, Alva lived with her father, and she worshipped him. From other members of the family I heard that he was a rather negative, difficult man, but, I guess, she saw him differently.
Alva married young, and in the same way she adored her father, she later idolized her husband. In her mid- 60s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While we worried about her, one year after her diagnosis, my grandfather died. Alva, despite her sickness, lived for 10 more years. However, for the rest of her life she remained a sad and melancholy person, concentrated mostly on the past. At least this is how I remember her.
Alva lived very close to us, and my very first walk alone when I was only four years old was to her place. I visited her frequently and often helped her clean and organize things. Sometimes we browsed photographs and photo albums. This made me interested in family history. Later in her life she moved to a nursing home not far from my high school, and I kept visiting her. I tried to be dutiful granddaughter and spent a lot of time with her, but I still wish I visited her more often.
I did not know Thelma as well as I knew Alva while growing up. I started to spend time with her regularly only when I was 12-years old and my mother introduced regular Sunday dinners with both grandmothers. We had Alva every 2nd Sunday and Thelma, every 4th Sunday of the month. Thelma was very different from Alva, and her family was a bit more well-to-do. She was rather thin and dressed in professional way, not in a “house dress” and apron like many women relatives in her age group. She lived near the center of town and for many years she worked in a in sporting goods store. I don’t think she retired until she was 75 years old.
For a long time, I did not know that in her youth Thelma attended nursing school in NYC. She was a girl from Bowdoinham, Maine and moving to the city must have been quite an achievement and adventure for her. She stayed at school for about a year and a half, but contracted TB and was forced to go back home for treatment. She never returned to school. Instead, she got married. I think that was something that her family pressed her to do.
I admired Thelma. She spoke more properly than many people in our community, and she became a role model or mentor to me. She had something of a “school teacher” personality – which in my perspective is a very good thing! She could seem a bit stern sometimes. But neither of my grandmothers were very affectionate. I don’t remember ever being kissed or hugged by either of them. In fact, there was no physical contact between us. It was as if they had some invisible shield around them. In this sense they were very stereotypically “English” – very nice people but not affectionate. But that’s just how things were in my family. And when you grow up that way, it’s simply what you learn to expect – and respect.