Grandma Ward

Grandpa and Grandma 1941

Grandfather Roland and Grandma Ginny, 1941


This is my much loved Grandma Ward, with her first husband, Roland, back in 1941.

Grandma was born in Southern California but moved to the Central Valley near Modesto when she was a young girl. She remembered riding the bus with the high school kids when she was in Kindergarten, because her parents didn’t want her taking the bus the other Kindergarteners took, as it was on the Highway and they didn’t think that was safe. So she rode with the big kids. The step to get on the bus was too high for her to reach, so a high schooler would lift her up. Kindergarten was 1/2 day, and High School was full day, so she waited outside the school for 3 hours or so until the big kids got out. All alone. Can you imagine anything like that today? Her parents would be in jail for neglect.

She fell in love with my Grandfather Roland when she was in High School, on a date with another boy. I guess that boy was friends with Roland, and they double dated. They didn’t care a bit for the others they were with, and Roland asked her out the next day. A few months later, they eloped. They had to elope, because he was older (27 to her 18) and divorced. The older her family could have dealt with, but the divorced would have been a deal breaker. So they chartered a little airplane that flew them to Carson City, Nevada, and they got married. They came home and she went to school and didn’t tell anyone until after graduation. Her parents couldn’t do much with her, but they didn’t let her younger sister Florence out of their sight for about 2 years, and she wasn’t allowed to date, which she said was fine with her because she was too shy anyway and it gave her an excuse.

Roland worked in construction, and he and my Granmda (Ginny) lived in a little trailer that was hitched to the back of their car. They drove up and down the valley following work, and were very happy. My mom came along about a year later, and made them even happier. Ginny felt like my mom was her little doll to play with, and had a great time being a mom. They had another baby, a boy, two years later, but baby Roland was very ill, and never came home from the hospital. He lived for several months, but kept getting sick before he could be released. When he died, they were devistated. They had another baby, another boy, a couple of years later. This baby was my Uncle Forrest, and all was well, they were again very happy and loving life with the two little children. I think they had an apartment now. One day, Grandpa Roland stepped on a nail while at work. He wasn’t terribly worried because he had had a tetanus shot. But the tetanus shot turned out to be ineffective, likely expired when given to him, and he died quite suddenly. He complained of a headache at breakfast, and was dead before lunch. My Grandma was left with a high school education, a 5 year old, a baby, and a broken heart. They had no life insurance, because they had cancelled the policy because it was too expensive.

Grandma had to find work, and couldn’t keep her kids with her. So my mom went to a convent, and my uncle to a foster home. Grandma and Aunt Flo had an apartment together, and Grandma’s small wages went to pay for the convent and the foster home, plus of course food and rent and so on. This went on for a couple of years, until my Grandma met my Grandpa, who fell in love with her and her kids, and the next thing you know, they were married. My Grandpa was in sales for a large printing company, and they sent him around the country. They lived in Puerto Rico, which is where my Aunt Colleen was born. They lived in Texas and New Mexico and Colorado, and eventually back in California. My mom and Grandpa did NOT get along (he was abusive in many ways) and she left to go live with her Great Aunt Julia in Modesto, which is where she finished high school, and where she met my dad.

My grandfather lost his job at the printing company, I believe because they thought he was too old (he was in his 50s) and they moved to Stockton, where he opened his own company, taking most of his clients with him. They lived there the rest of their lives. My grandfather died in 1988, and my Great Aunt Flo moved in with my Grandma. Aunt Flo’s husband had died quite awhile before. She had taken care of her parents until they died, then helped Grandma take care of Grandpa, and now they were living together.

These last few years, Grandma has not been well. She blames it on having had four children, while Aunt Flo’s kids are step kids, so of course she was healthier. The reality is a combination of factors, including a 60+ year smoking habit, dieting every day from about the age of 12, breaking her hip at the age of 40, and scoliosis in her spine, which as she aged and her spine compressed, became very painful. Aunt Flo has been her nurse and caretaker, as well as her sister and best friend.

When we moved back to California from Alaska when I was 9, Richard and I came first, my mom and our dog (Samantha) came a couple of weeks later. Grandma and Grandpa had downsized to a mobile home park at that time, and it had a swimming pool. Grandma would take us swimming every afternoon, and we would watch cartoons on cable TV (which we hadn’t had in Alaska) before dinner. It was a lot of fun and they spoiled us. They decided that mobile home living wasn’t for them, so they bought a house, which was 2 blocks from our place. I would spend the night at their house sometimes, I spent a week there for Spring Break (called Easter Vacation back then), and my Grandpa would make me apple turnovers for breakfast. When my mom decided we were vegetarian, I would go over there for dinner and Grandma would make me pork chops. When I had swimming and karate lessons at the Y after school, my Grandma would come pick me up and bring me to her house until my mom got home. We were pen pals, which started when we lived in Alaska, and lasted until a couple of years ago when she broke her wrist, plus her eyes weren’t what they once were.

When Ted and I got engaged and moved in together, I worried that she would be angry and scold me. She had asked me to promise never to do such a thing a few years before, when Richard was living with a girlfriend. I wrote to her and told her my news, and asked for her understanding. She wrote back that she had had so little time with my Grandpa Roland, and she thought we should all take our happiness where and when we could. She wasn’t thrilled, but she was OK with it.

Grandma was so strong. She outlived two husbands and all four of her children. She had many adventures and lived a good life.

She has always been a fierce ally, always on her grandchildren’s side, always wanting the best for us, always loving us. My grandma died last Saturday, and I am going to miss her terribly. I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore, but I will miss our trips to Red Lobster and our visits.

12 thoughts on “Grandma Ward

    • Thanks Simon. I know, crazy that she sat that long, waiting. I’m sure she played some sort of games to amuse herself, but gosh it would get boring, and she couldn’t read yet, or at least, not much.

  1. Such a wonderful story! I’m sorry for your loss, but have to admit I laughed about your grandma making you pork chops when your mother went on the vegetarian wagon. Now that’s love.

    • Ally, my mom told me later that she decided to give up being a vegetarian when she found out about the pork chops, and what she felt was envy. That’s when she realized she was an omnivore.

  2. This is a beautiful and loving tribute, J. Your grandmother had a full life. As Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker says, “There are no ordinary lives”, and your grandmother proves it.

    As do you.

    My deepest sympathies to you. One of the things I admire most about you is your philosophy about celebrating Life. About making the most of small occasions and living fully in the moment. Whether you developed that or came by it genetically from Grandma Ward, it’s a real Gift.

    • Oh Nance, what a lovely thing to say. Thank you. My grandmother did indeed live a rich and full life. She was pretty adventurous when she was young. My mom said she thought that the loss of her baby followed by the loss of her husband was too much, because she lived her life in a much more careful way after that.

  3. What an amazing life your grandma had Julie, so many experiences. i was really touched by her reaction to you and Ted moving in together, and a little sad for her. You’ve captured her life story wonderfully here, cherished memories with her. I’m so sorry for your loss.

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