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We are up to the part of the story where my grandparents and their young daughter Martha Ann were a happy little family in Robinson, Crawford Co., IL, in the late 30's. The Depression years were over and though times were hard, they weren't as hard as those that had come before. My grandparents owned a house and a good amount of land and had a wonderful little girl to raise. Life was hard but simple and times seemed pretty good for them then.
Then, when my Aunt Martha was about four years old, in late August 1938, tragedy struck their little family. I've written about it all here but I'll briefly recap it again. My grandma and her family were eating dinner with her mother and father, Robert Elbert and Louisa Adaline (Eagleton) Garrard, at their house in Robinson. After dinner grandpa Robert went on outside to the outhouse and on his way back was struck by a runaway car that had rolled over the lawn. Grandma told me many years later that her father, aged 85 at the time, had suffered internal injuries and that it took him a few hours before he passed away.
A few years later, in late 1940, my grandmother and grandfather were surprised when my grandma realized she was pregnant. It had been nearly seven years since she'd had their daughter Martha Ann with no pregnancies in between and I imagine Grandma had just figured Martha was it for them. She was 40, after all! Life, however, has a funny way of giving you what you need -- even when you don't realize that you will at the time.
Grandma told me about my father's birth many times. She said she was frightened when she learned she was pregnant and had nightmares about not being able to carry to term or of dying during the birth. She said these fears were difficult to deal with when she begun to feel sickly midway through her pregnancy. Her doctor told her she'd become anemic. Who knows if she was truly anemic, if she had what we now call toxemia, or perhaps she even had gestational diabetes. Whatever it was, grandma said she felt weak and miserable for most of her pregnancy. I can only imagine how she dreaded giving birth.
These fears were magnified about eight months in when she caught the flu. She was already weak enough and the flu put the so-called icing on the cake. She was bedsick and weak and soon to deliver. A neighbor lady, Kay Badgley, came to my grandma's rescue. She stayed with grandma and took care of her while she was sick and was there to help grandma through giving birth. Grandma told me that Kay saved her life by both assisting in my father's delivery and making sure that grandma herself did not succumb to either the flu or to any complications of childbirth. My grandmother was so grateful to the woman that saved her life that she acknowledged her by giving her son -- my father -- the name Kay as his middle name.
I hear Dad hated it with a passion when he was a teenager. Hah!
My father was born in the spring of 1941 just as World War II broke out overseas. Later on that year my grandparents woke up one morning, a morning that was also my grandfather's 40th birthday, and heard horrible news on the radio. Pearl Harbor had been attacked. World War II had started for us.
The war years were full ones for my grandma and her family. Work was hard to come by. I remember grandma saying that grandpa worked for the WPA for a time but I am not sure now of the dates. When grandpa got a job in Sidney (in Shelby County, Ohio) working in a machine factory where they made tools for the war the family moved to Sidney and lived there for about three years (c1942-1945.) I recently discovered that Grandma's brother Ralph Garrard had also moved to Sidney, something that grandma never told me. I wonder whether Ralph had moved there first and secured my grandfather a position, or was it the other way around? I don't know. Nevertheless, when grandma's mother Louisa died in a old folk's facility in Alton IL in 1944, grandma and her brother were in Sidney.
Grandma and grandpa and their two children moved back to Robinson and settled once more in the old home place. The next ten years saw them raise their children and see Martha get married to her sweetheart Oral in June of 1953. By the beginning of 1955 my dad was attending his first year of high school and his sister Martha was pregnant with her first child.
Things couldn't have been sweeter for grandma and grandpa, but then tragedy struck again. Martha gave birth to her son in August of 1955 but began to have complications almost immediately. Grandma told me that the doctors let her lay there instead of attending her. She was slowly hemorraging; she developed an infection that caused puerperal fever and she hemorraged to death three days after her son was born. She was 20 years old.
Martha's death devastated my grandparents. I never got the chance to ask my grandfather about it because he'd passed away before I began my genealogical quest in earnest, but I know how deeply Martha's death affected my grandmother. The journal entries and notes that I have from her during this time period reveal that. I've often looked at the picture to the left (which I believe was taken just around the time of Martha Ann's death) and studied the tired, drawn looks that both my grandparents are wearing. They look like all the joy in them had been sucked away. As a mother myself to a daughter very close to Martha's age, I cannot imagine. Well, take that back. I can imagine, and even that makes my stomach clench and my throat tighten up. I'd rather not imagine, much less experience.
Even now, though I never actually knew my Aunt Martha Ann, I feel as if I have because she's always been a part of my life. Grandma's cedar chest holds mementos of her life. Martha's high school diploma, a pair of glasses she wore, pictures and a compact mirror she kept in her purse, pieces of her writings, old report cards....the list goes on. I have seen Martha's image so many times and heard her spoken of so often that her living self feels ingrained in my sense-memory, as if I've been face to face with her in the real world. Does that sound strange? It doesn't feel like it, if it matters. My conversations with my grandmother were never without her and I suppose that helped implant her in my head. Besides, Martha Ann's son -- my cousin -- is an absolutely fantastic man and my favorite cousin in the whole wide world. Grandma told me once that his jolly attitude about life reminded her constantly of Martha, so not only do I have her face to look at and my grandmother's memories to bring her to life, but I have a reflection of who she was in her son. My aunt died a decade before I was born, but I had her around anyway.
One last thought before I close for today. I mentioned earlier that life tends to take care of you and give you what you need even when you don't realize that it is. My grandmother wasn't trying, wanting or expecting a second child -- but she got one anyway. I have often wondered if my dad came along because life knew that my grandmother would need that extra child, and not just in the wake of her daughter's death. My dad took care of his parents during their winter years and my grandmother lived with them in the last years of her life. Of course I'm glad they had him because neither I nor my own daughter would exist without it! But if they hadn't had him and Martha had died? They would have truly been all alone. I'm glad it didn't end up that way.
Next time I'll wrap it all up.
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