This night, sixty years ago, was the last time my grandmother ever saw her abusive husband outside of a courtroom. On this night, according to what various family members and news stories have told me, my grandmother's husband was beating her with his .38 caliber gun when her brother Chuck tried to intervene. All three of them lived in a small trailer in rural Iowa together, along with my aunt Bertie who was just an infant at the time. My grandmother was just nineteen years old and was far away from her home in northern Iowa and her brother was only twenty-four. On that night, in what was later characterized as a family argument, my grandmother's husband shot and killed her brother with that .38 caliber revolver, right there in their trailer.
There was a trial and the jury acquitted my grandmother's husband. She never saw him again. The news reports say that my grandmother planned to continue on with the divorce proceedings she initiated before the murder. My grandmother said in the new reports at the time that "it wasn't right to let [her husband] go."
Interestingly, my grandmother has never once discussed this incident with me. It's not because it's a secret, thought until I started digging, I knew knew her first husband's name or even the name of her brother who died. My grandmother first told my mother this story when shes started dating my father in 1975. My younger brother knows far more details than everyone else in my nuclear family. I have a lot of questions, now that I'm older and know more about the criminal justice system and domestic violence. I probably won't ask right now, though. It doesn't seem right to make her think about these painful memories given how the last year has gone.
Fifty-nine years ago, my grandmother married my grandfather. They had five more children, including my father and my grandfather adopted my aunt Bertie as well. This spring, my grandfather fell and hurt himself severely. Since then, his medical condition has been declining and he has been moved into a nursing home. My grandmother remains in her independent living apartment. For the first time in fifty-nine years, she spends her days without my grandfather. My grandmother can no longer drive due to her glaucoma, so she relies on others to take her to see my grandfather and to bring her the necessities. She spends many of her days alone in her apartment.
I've been hanging out with my grandmother a lot this summer because I know she's lonely and we have a good time together. When I was a child, these grandparents took care of me every day until I went to kindergarten. They watched me grow up and turn into the woman I am. My grandmother is also the best baker in the family and her recipes are a major source of inspiration.
What I didn't realize about my grandmother until my recent revelations about her life is what a bad ass she really is. She was practically a child herself when she tried to leave her abusive husband with their child in 1951. She went back home after her husband was acquitted of murder and found a new love for herself and her daughter. Besides that, she had six children with no anesthesia! My grandmother is a fighter who always had a sense of what is right and what she wanted. Even now, that remains true as she stubbornly stays in her apartment and maintains an unwavering hope that my grandfather will improve and be able to return to their home together. There are countless other examples of her deciding something and then making it so.
I love you, Grandma. You remind me that the most important things are worth the struggle. As they say, keep loving, keep fighting. You're awesome.