Did You Ever Know You Were My Hero?

granny-chicken3

My grandmother was born on January 28, 1911 to her parents, Simon & Missouri Hackney. She was named Mamie Hackney. The picture on the left was taken when she was four years old. If you look closely, you will notice the scratch under her eye, and when enlarged on the screen, you can also see a slight scratch just below her hairline on the left.  When I first noticed those scratches, I immediately got the picture of this sweet little girl in a dress slightly too big for her — perhaps a hand-me-down from one of her older sisters — chasing down that chicken, fighting it, and while taking a few scratches to her cute little face, making it her own. And that, my friend, is exactly what my grandmother did with her life. She chased it down, she fought, and in the end, after lots of scratches, she made it her own.

Grandma’s daddy was a coal miner, and when she was not quite seven years old, he was overtaken by black lung. Her mom couldn’t afford to support Grandma and her six brothers and sisters, so they were put up for adoption. That’s what they did in those days. My grandma would often tell me the story about how, in an effort to cheer her mother on the Christmas after her daddy died, she tried to light the candles on the Christmas tree, only to burn down the tree and half of the living room with it. Shortly thereafter, she and her brothers and sisters were taken away. It took her until she was well into adulthood to realize that it wasn’t her fault because of what happened that Christmas morning.

Sadly, she was never adopted, but went from foster home to foster home until she graduated from high school. People would take in foster children in those days as household help or farmhands. So my grandma grew up cleaning houses, taking care of babies and working farms. Some families were kind to her; others were not so kind. Sometime between foster homes, she decided she never liked the name “Mamie” and renamed herself “Betty Jeanne”. She told me it was the prettiest name she could think of.

When she was 18 years old, she met my grandfather, Earl Edward Abbott, at a dance club called “The Eagle” in Seattle, Washington. In those days, thegrandma2_0001 ladies would have dance tickets that they would give to potential suitors. My grandfather told me he took one look at Grandma and thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He begged all of her dance tickets off of her, and they danced all night. He promised he would be back the next night. My grandma came the next night only to be disappointed that he wasn’t there. The next weekend, she went again, and saw him, but he was with this cute little blonde with whom he danced for the first several songs. When he went to get some refreshments, my grandma took the opportunity to confront him and ask him what business he had with the cute blonde. My flustered grandpa quickly explained it was his sister, Bertha, who had come into town that week.

abbottsbabyjr_0002Grandma married Grandpa when she was 19 years old. That would have been in 1930. In a short while, they had my Aunt Yvonne. Six years later, my Aunt Sandra came along, and six years after that, they finally had a baby boy — my dad. Grandma always joked how, for some reason, she could only get pregnant every six years. Amazingly enough, I never heard my father or any of my male cousins make snide remarks about my grandpa’s performance when she would mention it.

Like me, Grandma helped her husband with his business. Grandpa owned a gas station, motel and restaurant called “Betty’s Lunch”. My grandma ran the restaurant and cleaned the motel. All this while raising three children and being very active with the Masonic Lodge. One year, my grandfather got very sick and was hospitalized, scaring my grandma half to death. She decided then and there it was time to get rid of the three businesses and put them all up for sale. She marched into my grandpa’s hospital room and, in her words, told him “she was sick to death of cleaning piss pots and it was time to move on”. Apparently, he didn’t argue. Smart man.

Not long after that,  the grandchildren started coming. Because of her past, family was the most important thing to my grandma, above everything else. She loved each and every one of us with a fierceness which couldn’t even be matched by a lioness. In the end, she would have 18 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, and a whopping 16 great-great grandchildren before her death last week, April 1, 2009. She was preceded in death by my grandfather, my two cousins, Eddie and Jimmy, and my Aunt Yvonne.

It wasn’t until she got sick a couple of months ago that I realized how much strength I drew from her. She was always there, no matter what. She Print was never afraid to tell me just what she thought. She was never afraid of ANYTHING, except for losing her family. I also realized that she gave me so much more than my unruly curly hair that turned grey by the time I was 35, and my big butt. She gave me a love for family and an almost insatiable hunger to know my roots — who I am and where I came from.

She called me on every single one of my birthdays and sang “Happy Birthday” to me … right up until my last birthday, my 42nd. And you know what? Turns out she did that for every single one of us. My cousin, Renee, recorded them. Oh, how I wish I’d thought to do the same.  I was blessed with four incredible grandparents. She was the last one I had left. Foolishly, I let myself believe she was invincible … that she’d make it to 100 and beyond. I was wrong. Right now, I’d give anything to be able to call her, like I use to do,  just one more time, and ask her to tell me just one more story about her and Grandpa. Any story. She was full of them. I can’t help but think there was at least one more she never told.

I was blessed to be able to be the one to put together her memorial, and go through all the hundreds of pictures she kept to produce a slideshow of her life. In doing so, I realized something about myself I needed to change. Once again, Grandma was lovingly showing me one of my flaws. I hate my picture to be taken. I hide from the camera. She didn’t. And because of that, I was able to to go through her pictures and feel close to her once more. Because of her, I will strive to change my aversion to the camera. Because one of these days, God willing, my granddaughter might be doing the same thing and, like me, might find some comfort in looking at pictures of her grandma. I can only hope.

So with this, I say goodnight to my beautiful, incredible Grandma Betty. Heaven has no clue what just hit it.

Did you ever know you were my hero … and everything I wish I could be?

I could fly higher than an eagle … with you as the wind beneath my wings.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. coffeegirl88
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 03:36:17

    Guess what sweetie, you can call her and talk whenever you want. She sits in your heart now, always with you, always listening.

    You’re lucky, very lucky, to know how your grandparents got together. That’s one story my Grandmother never told. I’m thinking very soon I’m going to drag my father out to his aunt’s (grandma’s little sister) and get down to some serious family storytime.

  2. Melina
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 03:46:53

    Oh Kim, what an inspiration! I love the pictures and the stories.

    I am sure she got strength from you too. How lucky she was to have such a wonderful granddaughter. The slideshow you put together must have been lovely.

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post.

  3. Jennifer
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 04:50:01

    What a wonderful tribute to an amazing lady! Thank you so much for sharing the stories and pictures. You’ve reminded me that I’ve really got to get on top of organizing some of my family stories and pictures too or they will all be forgotten. You are so lucky to have been so close to her and have shared in her life.

  4. Karen
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 12:29:48

    A wonderful story. Sniff. Thanks for sharing.
    And it reminds us of how lucky most of us are.

  5. Lauri Lynnxe Murphy
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 14:24:30

    That was beautiful, you made me cry! And you know what’s funny? I had the same realization you did, only it was via Facebook recently — all these old pictures people post, and I’m in hardly any of them. And then going through my Dad’s pictures, I had the same thought, when looking at the dozens of failed pictures of me and my brother Rich with our hands thrown swiftly in front of our faces. Why do we do that when we’re still young and cute, only to realize the sadness of it when we’re…well, older and less cute? As much as I hate having my picture taken, I now comply willingly, if only to be part of the history being recorded.

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