My maternal grandmother was dead long before I was born.
Rose Ann Bradley was her name, born in County Cavan, Ireland, one of 11 children.
My mother spoke of her infrequently, and never unkindly. But the impression of her remains as that of an indomitable woman, withholding and glacial.
The story that reverberated the most for me was this one: she and my mother were sitting in front of the fire grate in their tenement flat in Glasgow. My grandmother had suffered a stroke and was in a wheelchair. My mom was nursing my eldest sister Kathryn.
She steeled herself to ask her mother a question: I say steeled because they shared no closeness, no confidences.
“Mother, can I get pregnant while I am nursing?” This was in the days when reproductive knowledge and education was almost non-existent.
A long pause, and then came her gruff reply: “Lassie, you know what you’ve been doin.’”
Rose Ann married her husband Thomas Smith, a Glaswegian, without loving him. He was educated and she knew he would teach her what he knew. She could neither read nor write. She signed her marriage certificate with an X. She had 12 children and lost twins at birth, a 19 year old daughter to TB and a 22 year old son to the war.
If I had a chance to meet her, I would ask my grandmother if she had dreams for her children. I’d ask her what was it like to marry a man she didn’t love. About the harsh life she must have endured in Ireland as one of 11 children. And what she was like as a little girl before life intervened.
I will never know her but she made my being here possible. And I wonder what parts of me are her. My love of the saxophone? The way I curl myself in sleep?
Are any of our dreams the same?
My mother often said she wanted to be the mother she never had.
And for that, I owe to Rose Ann Bradley Smith my unblemished gratitude.