Monday, November 5, 2012

A Story Never Told

In my last post, I added a picture of the women of the Johnson family. I sat looking at the picture and was overwhelmed with emotion. It wasn't the first time this has happened. So I have decided to investigate a bit and figure out why this picture of my grandmother affects me as deeply as it does. Who was this woman and who now do I see in her face?

To begin with, I know very little of my maternal grandmother. Mom Johnson was not the warm, sensitive grandma. At least that is what I have heard. She was a tough woman being married to Pop Johnson, my grandfather. I was told the story often of how Pop got so mad at my aunt that he took a horse whip to her. When he was finished, he handed the whip to his son and told him to take his turn. It was a hard day and age and sometimes the men were mean and cruel.

I'd always been told that Mom Johnson was barely a teen when she married Pop, but according to the records, she was seventeen to his twenty years. She raised three daughters and a son. Raising daughters with a man who had no respect for women must have been terrible. I can't begin to imagine her life. She had rebellious daughters who left home as soon as possible leaving my mother who was much younger behind. My uncle was, of course, the apple of the family eye. He would be the one to continue the family name and to work the soil his father had cleared.

The in-laws l to r: Betty Hunt, Sam Fisher, Mom Johnson, my dad, Pop Johnson, Welma Johnson

I see in my grandmother's eyes a tenderness or perhaps a longing. My heart breaks wondering what she endured, knowing that her voice was silenced giving all power to her husband.  She had daughters who demanded their freedom, a freedom she never had in her life. They stretched the limits giving voice to their anger while she had to deny her voice and agree with her husband. There is a sadness in her eyes. One that no one knew was there.

What stirs me most is the familiarity I feel when I see her face. Do I see my own in hers? Do I see that of my sister June? I don't know, but I see a face I recognize today. And, I am drawn to her. Perhaps in some strange way, I am getting to know my grandmother for the first time. Perhaps I am finding compassion for a woman who always was stern and unyielding. I am trying to understand.

We are a present molded from the past. We carry remnants of others in our faces. Our recollections are framed by what we have heard from others. We make our way into a future learning what we can by the bits and pieces of the past. Even a past we can't remember.

I was nine when she died. Today I try to tell a story of a woman I did not know.

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