By: Revanche

Where I come from

March 29, 2010

Writing about thrift and the essence of making the best of your life reminded me that it’s been two years and two months since my grandma died. She couldn’t be a physical presence in my childhood but she represented incredible strength and integrity that informed my developing character.

Seventy-five years ago, my beloved grandmother married into a wealthy (in name only, at that point) family with only her bridal money, wedding clothes and her wedding ring. Her father-in-law, a landowner, had gambled away the family fortune, and the clock was ticking on the call date from his last throw of the die. At the time of their wedding, he had less than three years to pay the price of the final debt or forfeit thousands of acres of unworked lands.  His children despaired and gave up the land as lost.

Armed with no more than an 8th-grade education and the instinctive determination to reclaim her new family’s property, she rolled up her sleeves and set about creating wealth from the lands. She directed my grandfather in his new duties, walking out the land each day until she was fully satisfied that she knew the terrain down to the last bit of soil, and made her plans.

She contracted out one-half of the land to farmers who could only afford to rent the use of the land, third world sharecropping, with specific terms – they were responsible for their own equipment and maintenance and in return for the use of the land, pay a set percentage of their yield.  Her personal cash was strictly budgeted for her own operations on the rest of the land and storage facilities.  Not only did she intend to make an income from the land, she meant to keep the entire operation a secret from the debt-holder hundreds of miles away.  Her family knew but expected little result. “Too much work, too little time,” they said. 

She didn’t just pay people to work the land, she worked it herself every single day.  Growing, processing and storing rice over the course of multiple growing seasons, she guarded against word getting out that she would have rice to sell, and sent Grandpa to keep up the ruse by asking for short extensions on the final loan due date whenever he paid an installment.

When the deadline loomed, she sold all the stored and newly harvested rice. 

On the final day, my grandpa’s eldest brother sat down with the banker to whom they owed the debt for the formal title transfer.  Instead, Great-Uncle unpacked a suitcase of cash.  The man was stunned.  After his departure, she turned around and handed the title and deed to her equally shocked father-in-law.

To his credit, he tried to make her take the title. As far as he was concerned, she had rightfully earned every penny that bought back the land, and he insisted she was the new owner.  And as was typical of her, she refused, agreeing only to take an appropriate fraction of the land if the rest was parceled out evenly among all his children.

Honor, Duty, Family, Birthright.

She lived her entire life by those watchwords.  She raised nine children, fostered dozens of relatives, stood firm when her family and neighbors were caught in the middle of the war, buried a son, supported a son-in-law imprisoned for 15 years after the war, buried her husband, and continued to farm well into her 80s.  The woman never blinked in the face of adversity; she served it hot tea and a freshly cooked meal. And a well deserved lecture, if need be.

Fun side note: when she was 82, she ambushed the wildcat who’d been raiding her outdoor kitchen in the middle of the night. She might have been 80 pounds soaking wet, but that never stopped discipline in her house. A whack across the nose, a firm tie-up in the corner of the kitchen so he’d keep until morning, and her poor housekeeper nearly had a heart attack when she inspected the “stray dog” that Grandma had captured. So her eyesight wasn’t great anymore at that age, but is it any wonder no one ever sassed her twice?

Sometimes I wonder what she would have been like in our modern world.

_______________________

19 Responses to “Where I come from”

  1. Mrs. Micah says:

    So you’re descended from pure awesome, then. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the story with us!

    Your grandmother makes me think a bit of mine, who was widowed during the Depression with a 6th grade education and worked her way up to becoming County Recorder to support her kids.

  2. oilandgarlic says:

    Wow-that’s an incredible story about an incredible woman. I have relatives in China, too, that went through WWII. Those were tough times, to say the least.

  3. That’s amazing. Do they even make people like that anymore?

  4. Your writing is amazing. Seriously. Your history is so rich and I can’t wait to hear more. I’ve been trying to read pasts post, but I feel like I know the ending already which slightly ruins the story…lol!

  5. The Borrower says:

    Amazing! This would be a great book. Ever think of writing one? My grandmother was much the same way. I think it was the generation that built strong women. I hope that I too walk with this internal power.

  6. Reading her life story is such an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing this. I am currently writing a series for my children to read when they grow up regarding who their ancestors were, what they did, and how they lived their lives. We can learn so much from those who came before us!

  7. 444 says:

    This is very fascinating stuff. I’m going to have to read it again just to understand the land transactions.

  8. Grace. says:

    Oh My! That’s the kind of grandma I want to be. Well, except for the farming and the wildcat!

    I’ve got a story like that, too, only not so nice. My great grandmother was a picture bride from Austria who had to promise not to rear her children as Catholics. Her husband (my great, grandfather) was known for his brutality to her and their two children. But he was anti-social as well, so he sent her and the kids to town once a month for supplies in the buckboard, where they were regulars at the Catholic church. When he found out, he beat his wife nearly to death. Two days later someone shot and killed him in his living room. Grandma and the kids were apparently in the barn at the time. Everyone knew she did it. No one blamed her. And she continued to manage the ranch for another 30 years.

  9. L.A. Daze says:

    Your grandmother sounds fierce. What a great family history!

  10. Sense says:

    Bahahaha, I love this! It shows where you get it from.

    My grandmas (and pas, for that matter) were incredible, too. It seems like they just don’t make people like that anymore!

  11. Ciawy says:

    This is such an amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing.

  12. Thanks so much for sharing — your grandma was amazing! It reads like fiction

  13. QL girl says:

    Love the story! And it really would make a good storyline for a book! She sounds like she was an amazing woman…

  14. Kate says:

    Wow. I’m delurking to say thank you for this inspiring post. Having been reading your blog admiringly, I was wondering where you got your fortitude, work ethic, and wonderful attitude from. Now I know! I was feeling sorry for myself today, and this has made me feel somewhat better-adjusted 🙂
    Thanks!

  15. Revanche says:

    I’m glad so many of you enjoyed this.

    @Mrs.Micah: I believe that’s a fair characterization of her. 😀

    They were incredibly tough back in those days, weren’t they?

    @oilandgarlic: Oh yes. We have no idea what it’s like to have to live in a war-torn village, year after year, and make it work.

    @me in millions: I think we’d have to check for a stamp of authenticity.

    @Investing Newbie: *blush* That’s so nice of you. If it makes you feel better, reading past posts will fill in some holes I don’t bother to repeat now.

    @Shlee: Thanks.

    @The Borrower: It’s been mentioned before, if nothing else as a way to preserve our family history, and I’d love to do it. I’ll have to take a LOT of oral histories, though, so little survived the wars.

    @Jersey Mom: That would be a wonderful gift to your kids and future generations!

    @444: I wish I had more exact numbers but I only had my memory of dad’s stories to transcribe. If he remembers, I should write that down.

    @Grace: I dunno, Grace, she only bopped the wildcat and scared the crap out of him. No real harm done! And the farming’s just darned impressive. 🙂

    Your great-great ‘ma had some serious grit.

    @L.A.Daze: I know, I’m so proud of her!! 🙂

    @Sense: Haha, I hope to live up to her legend someday. There’s so much more about her that was admirable, I just didn’t want to go on forever about her.

    @Ciawy: Thank you for reading!

    @stackingpennies: She was, and I don’t know if anyone ever told her so.

    @QL Girl: Y’all are really inspiring me to do something more about this verbal history we’ve got.

    @Kate: Welcome to the comments and thank you for delurking! (hope you stay that way!)

    And thanks for thinking I got some of her personality, I sure hope so. Otherwise I just inherited her love of containers. 🙂

  16. She sounds incredible

    She’s good seed, I tell you 🙂 Good seed

    Which makes you generationally AWESOME seed.

  17. eemusings says:

    What an inspiring read. Is it any wonder you turned out the way you did?

  18. What an amazing story! When you think about how people lived when they had none of the amenities that make our lives easier, you have to marvel at how tough and strong they were.

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