Excerpt from Riding Shotgun: “Enough”
I could trace my inheritance to an earlier beginning, but 1938 will do: the year my great-grandmother Martha was widowed. Her husband gone, she told her two daughters that, at age fifty-four, she was too old to care for herself. Kate and Elsie would have to live at home, to “look after her.” Both daughters had postponed weddings because of their father’s illness. At her mother’s pronouncement, Kate fled. Who can blame her? And Elsie bent to her mother’s will. After a honeymoon in D.C. she brought her new husband home. The house was small. The four children Elsie eventually bore took turns sharing a bed with their grandmother. Martha helped out a bit; she watched the kids while Elsie worked in the munitions factory, she crocheted, she cleaned, but still. Elsie rarely knew the simple pleasure of time alone with her husband until Martha, growing senile, chose a nursing home.
At least that’s how my family tells the story. And this is what I hear: my great-grandmother Martha, grieving her young husband and stripped, suddenly, of that protective layer between herself and a confusing world, didn’t know how to drive, balance a checkbook, earn a nickel. She could have learned, of course; she had the buffer of life insurance and her husband’s pension. How much easier it is to let brokenness close us in! Especially with a daughter so willing to take the sputtering torch and run with it.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew