Tuesday, May 3, 2016

She was Grace

     My mom was born on January 27, 1919 in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Her family lived in Green River, 15 miles west. Green River was a rough and dusty town, a railroad town, fueled by coal from Rock Springs and the hard work of good people from all over the world.
     She graduated the salutatorian of her class, and was offered an academic scholarship to the University of Wyoming. But she was the sole breadwinner in her family by this time, her older siblings married and gone, and $50.00 a month was too much to pass up. She stayed at her job at the county library. Never a social butterfly, she didn’t date until she was out of high school and didn’t enjoy it much then. Her life was the library, and she loved it. She saved her money, took an occasional vacation to Denver or Salt Lake City with her mother, and quietly resigned herself to a single life.
     When the war years came in the 1940s, the troop trains thundered across the desert and stopped in Green River for coal and water. The GIs took their doughnuts and coffee from the Red Cross, took themselves to the bars for a drink, and some of them even in desperation found their way to the Sweetwater County Library. But none of them ever found my mom – or at least never found their way into her heart.
     In fact, it wasn’t until much later, after the war – after all the GIs who were going to come home had come home – that something changed. Franklin Gasson – “Gus”. He had malaria. He had jungle rot. He had what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. But he read, so he came to the library. And in time, it seemed, he came to the library only during her shift.
     Gus was a quiet guy who carried a lot of scars from the war. He put on a gruff exterior, but she found him to be unfailingly kind, gentle and loving. He was wonderful to her mother. And he loved the mountains and desert country of southwestern Wyoming with all his heart. When he asked her to marry him, she didn’t hesitate. They were married at high noon on June 19, 1951 in the little church she had attended all her life.    

     I suspect it wasn’t always easy for my mom to be the only female in our home. My father and I were born with a love of the outdoors. She was not. She didn’t like cooking over a fire. She didn’t care to sleep on the ground, and she certainly didn’t care to hunt. She fished, probably out of self-defense in the beginning. But I remember her being a tolerably good angler, though prone to fits of emotion with a fish on. I was there when she caught the biggest fish of her life, using one of the most unorthodox techniques I’ve ever seen. She set the hook on the big rainbow, turned around and ran up the bank and all the way to the truck. I can still see that big fish bouncing through the sagebrush…
     Then, unexpectedly, it all came crashing down around her ears. In May of 1967, my dad died suddenly. Coronary heart disease – we had no idea. He was only 53. It was as though our world had collapsed in on us. My mom was devastated. I was crushed. It was a nightmare.
     When Kim came along a few years later, my mom loved her. And when we were married in 1973, my mom got the daughter she had waited so long for. I was only 18, and I suspect that Mom realized that Kim had a better chance of helping me to be something other than a menace to society than she did. If she had any regrets about “losing” me, she kept them to herself and always treated Grandma with great love.
     In time, the old house in Green River became too much for her. An automobile accident in 1986, a knee replacement some years later, and the steady march of time made it hard for her to keep living on her own. When we suggested that she move here with us, she was again gracious. She tried it for a few months, decided she liked it and came back to stay. Our family moved her lock, stock, barrel and 700-pound pieces of petrified wood.
     In the end, with her worldly possessions reduced to those which would fit first in an assisted living apartment, and later in a nursing home room, she seemed to care less and less about those things. She cared about us. Even when she couldn’t remember the names of her grandsons-in-law or her great-grandchildren, she loved them. She loved all of us. Right up to the end, she loved us. And right up to the end, she was gracious. She was Grace.

And I miss her. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.