Saturday, January 16, 2010


My last remaining grandparent, Wilma Stone Wetter, passed away last Saturday at the age of 99. For quite a while she had been alive only in the most technical sense, in that her heart beat and her lungs filled of their own accord. Her death was as merciful as death can be.

Of my five grandparents (i include my mother's stepfather), she was the one with whom i was the closest. My parents bought the farm that she and my grandfather had owned since the 1940s, and the two of them lived across the driveway from us for years before they retired and moved to Arizona. I also spent summers with them during my college years in Tucson, at their home in the Tortolita mountains.

Grandma was inscrutable. She could be bitter and caustic, possibly the remnants of her divorce from my mother's real father in the 1930s. She was deeply religious and apparently sincere about her Christianity, but she also alienated many people, including her oldest daughter (ie, my mom). On the other hand, she was always exceptionally kind and generous to me and had an influence on my life.

She was smart and had a long career teaching English. Although teaching was one of those "acceptable" jobs for women of her era, it was still fairly rare to work until retirement. She grew up in Milan, Ohio (birthplace of Edison) in a family of pedagogues. She went to Bowling Green University and (i have heard) was something of an athlete. I imagine her early life as carefree and probably more interesting than most girls of her time.

I don't know exactly when she met my grandfather. He (Herbert) was an interesting and often charming man, so I can see that she would have been attracted to him. Unfortunately, he also had many problems, the extent of which i don't really know (skeleton in closet). He left when my mom was about 6 months old. I've never heard the story of this stage in my grandmother's and mother's lives, but i assume it was not easy (it was not something either talked about). My mom's step-father (Orville) was a good man, but he was in such stark contrast to Herb that one can only assume that she chose him more as a reaction to her previous experience than out of sheer affection.

My grandmother lived during a time of incredible change. Her lifetime encompassed both world wars, the arrival of most of our modern conveniences, the great depression, the battles for civil rights for women and minorities, 9/11. Really, the world that she was born into was a different planet. True, she observed the majority of this change from north-eastern Indiana, which is a bit like being in Tatooine during the reign of the empire. I give her credit though for dealing with the world as well as she did. Life disappointed her early, and it would have been easy to be nihilistic or self-destructive. She did things that i could never understand, like spending most of her retirement years doing crossword puzzles or arguing with people at fast food restaurants over the discounts provided by coupons. But she also had a double knee replacement in her 70s, which seems to me a sign of hope.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Sorry to hear the news, but enjoyed the picture you painted of your grandmother.