A long while back, my grandmother – who is still alive – wrote a book about her life. Being young, and an idiot, I hadn’t focused on it too much at the time. As the years passed, however, and I began to realize how much our grandparents have to share with us, I decided it was time to take another look. There was a line that stopped me in my tracks, and it went something like this:
“My mom would always tell people that she had 15 kids. Try as I might, I would count, and count, and count, but I could only get to 13. I never knew where the other two kids went.”
Later in the book, she explains that my great grandmother came to the United States from Slovenia at age 13, and married shortly after. She had two children – Anthony and Carl. But after being abused by her husband, she decided to leave him – and her children – behind. Per my grandmother: “I believe it had to be a drastic reason to leave her children because I know how much her kids meant to her – every single one.”
My great-grandmother went on to have 13 more children with my grandmother’s father, who died when my grandmother (the youngest of the bunch) was 18 months old. My head can barely wrap itself around this story. And yet there it is – and I haven’t been able to forget it ever since.
For awhile, I thought about writing a novel based on my great-grandmother’s life. It was going to be called “16 Kindles,” with the concept that the daughter (my grandmother) – or maybe even her daughter (my mom) – tries to find the extra (in this case three) children that her mother had been forced to leave behind. (The fictional family would have been named The Kindles … clearly, I came up with this concept before the Kindle bookreader was created . The idea has been in my head for years … until it suddenly hit me that it would probably be a lot more interesting to try to find that side of the family for real, rather than simply writing about what would happen if I did.
So, over the holiday weekend I got a membership to Ancestry.com. I’ve been sifting through census records, marriage records, obituaries, draft cards … I’ve taken the names my grandmother wrote down and researched how they may have changed over time … I’ve been taking what I’ve learned to Facebook to reach out to people who might be related to me, starting each message, “This is going to sound random, but …”
I haven’t heard back from anyone I’ve reached out to yet, but I’m really hoping I do. I don’t know what I’m expecting to find, but I think at the heart of it, I want their families to know exactly what my grandmother said: their mother loved them very much. And she wouldn’t have left unless she really had to.
This post is dedicated to Anthony and Carl, who – like me – didn’t get to know my great grandmother. From what my grandmother has said (and sung) about her, however, she was a strong and amazing woman. I hope I can help bridge that gap for their children and grandchildren should the opportunity ever arise.
Below is a song my grandmother wrote for her mom. The lyrics speak volumes, so I’m including them here.
I’m thinking tonight about my mother.
She’s the one who knew us best.
She has gone beyond to help another.
With her love, she passed the test.
She’s gone to heaven to be with father, who left us many years ago.
We never thought she’d ever leave us because we all needed her so.
When the lord took from her my dear father
She was left with loved ones to rear.
The lord left her love and much guidance.
So we’d never have evils to fear.
God must be happy to have her near him.
For the sky shines love down from above.
This dedication is for my mother.
To my mother I send all my love.