A Memorial Day Tribute to Grandmothers: Their Hard Times Define Us

As Memorial Day comes and goes this year, I (Linda) am celebrating those heroines who came before me: my Grandmothers!  Most of them I never knew but their stories find me and bind me to their heroic lives!  In addition I’m thinking of the lives of the Mothers who came after these great women who are also influenced by their sacrifices.

This article appeared in the Deseret News news near Mother’s Day but I think it’s even more appropriate for Memorial Day. Those who came before us, are not only in our genes and our blood but should be in our memories as we contemplate their lives on this Memorial Day.

The Hard Times of Mothering Define Us

There are some days when Mothering is about as fun as traveling at eighty miles an hour on a blistering hot day on a motorcycle with no windshield in a bug storm!

I have worried for many years about young mothers, in the midst of the “storm” who tell me that they hate Mother’s Day. It reminds them of their shortcomings and magnifies their guilt.  All mothers have probably felt this way at times. So this year, as we approach Mother’s Day with its flowers and treats and showering of praise, we also need to acknowledge that mothering is just plain hard!

Let’s step back a moment, take ourselves out of the here-and-now and look at the big picture. Mothering isn’t just about where we are in our mothering career at the moment; it’s about where we came from and where we are going. In order to know who we really are, we need to look at the whole spectrum of the mothers in our lives.

Last year I had a spectacular “aha moment” as I began thinking about the Mothers in my life.  Not just my own mother who has been an enormous influence for good on me but also my grandmothers and great grandmothers. I am part of them and they are part of me.

My moment came as I was walking through a glorious field of bluebells on a spring day in England in an old 100 acre-wood near a quaint little village called ­­­­­­Little Baddow.  It happened to be my birthday and I was there with two of our daughters, both stellar mothers themselves, and two grandchildren. Little Baddow is where my great-great grandmother Elizabeth Gower was born and raised.

Elizabeth must surely have walked through this very bluebell field in her childhood. It was an ethereal experience to contemplate the currents of her life, which first moved our family to America all those years ago and now of my own life as we three mothers came back to the flower grove of this stalwart mother from our past.

(Below is an original oil painting by Bobbi Snow from photographs of the “Fields of Bluebells”).

IMG_3468Elizabeth and her husband Daniel Clark were the first to join our church with their family of ten children and were so bitterly persecuted for becoming Mormons that they decided to immigrate to America. On the way across the plains in covered wagons, Daniel drank some bad water from the river, contracted cholera, died and is buried somewhere along the Platte River in Nebraska. Valiant Elizabeth forged on to Salt Lake City with the children. I can only imagine the vivid details of her difficult life—details of hardship which in the end defined her and helped define me. Though I never knew her, her valiant blood runs in my veins.

There are other stories of my gaggle of faithful grandmothers that boggle my mind. One, after giving birth to ten children and living a faithful life died in the horrendous flu epidemic in 1920 in Star Valley, Wyoming when she was thirty-eight, leaving eight children including my mother and taking her two sick babies aged three and eighteen months with her to heaven in the same week.  Another pioneer grandmother helped settle Bear Lake Valley and saw that the community recreation hall and  a road to Bloomington Lake was built. And another lost five of her six children as she immigrated from Denmark to Salt Lake City. The stories of the difficulties of their lives is nothing short of awe-inspiring. .

Now that our children have flown the nest,  I love thinking about those great mothers who have made me and those who will become great mothers because of their sacrifices. That includes of our own four daughters and four daughters-in-law who are producing the generations to come.

They have their own sets of hardships.  One has a child with a syndrome that may cause the loss of her eyesight before she is an adolescent.  Another lived with our son in a 450 square foot apartment in New York City for three children—the baby sleeping in a drawer. One gave birth to their first child at age 38. Another has a teenager who has just hit the “surly” age. Two daughters sit in pews by themselves each Sunday struggling with little children while their Bishop husbands conduct their church services. Another valiant soul delivered their first child completely naturally…. breech! Still another is a pioneer in her own right as she and her family have decided to “go green” at their home in Hawaii. They have grow boxes full of vegetables, a yard full of chickens and live on about $200 a month for food while driving beat up old, completely rusted out Mercedes station wagons that run on vegetable oil.

None of it is easy—not in the past or in the present. Yet, as much as we may enjoy the lovely picture portrayed on Mother’s Day of love and peace and tranquility and gratitude, we have to admit that the difficulties in our lives are the things that help us to grow and change and learn. As we look at the big picture, these hard times of motherhood create a family narrative that will give future generations strength and resilience to go on in the face of their own hardships.

One of our long-standing family’s mantras was probably inspired by our grandmothers shouting down from heaven, Hard is Good!”



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