Grandma and Grandpa Graves had passed some time ago. They weren’t really my grandparents; they were friends of my Mom and my then stepfather at the time, and they became my babysitters when I was growing up. They lived across the street from the house we rented on Vermont Avenue, and theirs was the best manicured lawn on the block. Grandpa had been employed in the carpentry trade and Grandma was a homemaker, He was a tall, ginger-haired Irishman with ruddy skin that had caramel freckles splattered across it like a Jackson Pollock painting; Grandma was a tiny Portuguese beauty, with dark sparkling eyes and standing not more than five foot three. Maybe a most unique combination of a couple that could exist, they ‘adopted’ my younger brother and I as one of their own grandchildren.

They were married and raised three boys during the latter part of the Depression. The Depression taught them frugality and resourcefulness. Before becoming a carpenter, Grandpa was a truck driver for the WPA works project developed by the Government to work on roads and infrastructure. He was paid by the truckload of gravel he brought from the quarry and while he worked. Grandma, expecting her first child, would take care of the house. Because times were tough, many days the only thing in the house to eat was beans, Beans for breakfast. Beans for lunch when Grandpa would come home to eat. Beans for dinner. Sometimes that was what families had to do was make the best of what was plentiful and inexpensive.

Grandma came from a immigrant family from Lisbon who owned a family grocery store. Grandpa and his father-in-law did not see eye to eye; as Grandma’s father thought she married beneath her social standing. How could she marry this wild Irishman, rough and tumble as he was, defiantly non-Catholic and someone who would have a beer or two after a long week on the road. One day, after a visit to Grandma during the day to check on his expectant daughter, her father loaded up a horse drawn wagon (talk about home delivery) of various staples that a household needed – flour, sugar, meat, and had it delivered to the home.

Grandpa had arrived after a hard days work to the aroma of pork chops sizzling in a skillet on the stove. Knowing that this was not part of the weekly shop, Grandpa asked where these came from. Grandma informed him that her father had delivered some items and she was preparing a fine dinner for her hard working man. Grandpa, already incensed at the assumption that he could not take care of his wife, packed up all the provisions and took them back to the father-in-law in the store, stating that ‘my wife married me and she knew what kind of life she would be marrying into, yet she chose me and she will eat what I put on the table’ – even if it is beans. Grandpa’s pink ears would turn bright cherry red when he would get to that part of the story. Grandma would sit quietly listening, crocheting another square to fashion into an afghan to sell.

As time moved forward, the Depression ended, Grandma delivered three healthy boys, and life went on. Years later, Grandpa retired from carpentry and they settled into a life of retirement, living within their means but still able to have a little ‘tucked away’ for emergencies. As I became a mother, I would remember from time-to-time the story about the beans would come up, and most of the time my own Mother would roll her eyes when Grandpa would perk up and begin telling the story, always with a new twist to it each time it was retold. I would enjoy hearing them, as I had never really experience sacrifice and the events that would develop my own true grit in my life.

They are now gone, as well as my parents, who were small children in the Depression, and those stories are now words reverberating in my mind. Those tales were drops of wisdom to me, on how to grab hold of your convictions and your creativeness, your faith and your family. Never would I think that I would now be formulating my own experiences to share with my grandchildren, who are living through this now.

I miss those old stories; the tales told over and over. They are a testament to struggle and endurance in times of adversity. Thank you, Grandpa, Grandma and Mom.

Ibaé

 

 

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