I come from a family of storytellers. There are more than a few interesting ones to tell about family history alone. Some family members, my Dad and paternal Grandmother among them, are/were amazing oral storytellers. This made my childhood quite colorful and gave me the gift of imagination. The gene for telling stories was not passed on to me, but I can write decently enough to help continue sharing them. So I do.
Among the true stories, some are easier to tell than others. Today I was thinking about my Mom and my maternal Grandmother, as we get ready for Mother’s Day 2014. Much of my childhood, my Mom was housebound dealing with severe agoraphobia. She didn’t really leave the house for years, pretty much from the time I was five until I was in high school. I have a close relationship with my Mom and learned a lot from here during that tough time, mainly about resilience and spirituality. Thanks to modern-day anti-depressants, Mom doesn’t have to stay stuck at home anymore, which is a great thing.
My Dad was busy working most of the time when I was a kid, when Mom was sick, so my brother and I spent a lot of time at my Grandma’s house. She was the caretaker for a well-to-do family in Reynoldsburg named the Hafts. They had a large house on a bit of land right off Main Street. Inside the house was a bar, which was a real sign of wealth as far as I could tell. Their old stable had been converted into two apartments behind the house, and Grandma lived in one of them. I could walk to kindergarten from there, and every day I passed by a house where a monkey lived in the backyard, on a chain.
Grandma took care of the elderly Hafts to make a living, and my brother and I played in the little woods between her home and the Haft’s house. We rode our bikes up and down the lane and climbed high in the pine trees and sat up there for hours, getting sap all over our hands and legs, and were difficult about coming down when Dad picked us up.
From those trees we could see the awesome set-up of a neighbor family that had bought a trampoline for their kids. It was, according to all adults in our family, an irresponsible thing to do and sure to result in injury. But we loved to watch the kids jump on it and wished we could, too. When we were not in the pine trees, we could see the kids’ top halves flying up above the six-foot fence. It really wasn’t fair, but in the end we had the woods to run around in, and they didn’t.
When Grandma wasn’t stuck in her chair with back problems, she was getting herself in trouble with my Mom by trimming our bangs (unevenly), encouraging us with art projects (she was quite the artist), or patiently listening while I played the first Wings album over and over again. I remember her being patient when I flipped out over any TV shows featuring UFOs. Much to my brother’s disappointment, she made us turn off any program involving guns (including “Bonanza” and “Big Valley”). I remember that she helped us save a baby bird we found under a tree. We put it into a shoebox with some old cloths to keep it warm. It died anyway, but we tried.
Much of Grandma’s life, and by extension my Mom’s, was greatly influenced by my Grandfather, a man I never met. His name was Robert Foltz, and he left for WWII when my Mom was five. While overseas, he met a Canadian nurse and sent Grandma divorce papers around Christmastime. I’m not sure what year it was. He was very intelligent and handled logistics for the Army, and I believe he worked for a long time after his service in high-level corporate positions dealing with transportation.
He passed away a few years ago, and in his obituary his family thanked his long-time personal nurse. When my Grandma passed, I was in my mid-20s. My parents were away on vacation, so someone from the nursing home called to tell me that she had “expired.” I was devastated, really, because I’d always had a close relationship with her. But I had just visited with her and was the last to see her alive, so I was glad for that.
My husband often uses my Grandma as an example for why Social Security exists. She worked her entire life in various creative ways. After her husband left, her older brothers and sisters let her live at the old family house, which she rented out as a home for unwed mothers. She did the women’s fashion window displays at Lazarus in the 50s, and she worked in the paint department at a store in Florida. In the 60s, she was a house mother for Grant Nursing School. Over the years, she always worked but never made a lot of money, and died in a place that took Medicare and Medicaid. My Mom and uncle ate a lot of ketchup sandwiches growing up, and my Mom’s toes are curled because she never had shoes that fit. My Grandfather did pay back child custody years later, after my Grandma took him to court, but that was after Mom and my uncle were grown. I don’t think that his second family really knows much about us.
There are always two sides to every story. I have no doubt that my Grandmother, as much as I loved her, was not an easy person to live with. So I’m sure that Robert Foltz had some reasons for deciding to leave. But I think it haunted my Mom for years, and still does. He never wanted to have any contact with his old family. I think Mom talked with him on the phone from time to time. She always wanted to see him but never did after he left. Sometimes when people go, there’s just an empty hole that the people left behind have to find a way to fill.
I wish I’d met him, too. He sounds like a person I would have liked, despite the family history.