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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book of me written by you: Grandparents

My grandmothers in Washington D.C. May 1988
Thoughts on my grandparents are mixed and wonderful.  I learned a lot about my grandfathers from stories my family told, particularly those from my grandmothers.  My maternal grandfather died two years before I was born right after my mother graduated from high school.  While I have a few memories of my paternal grandfather they are shadowy and vague.  More like impressions than real memories.  He died shortly after I turned two years old.

My grandmothers were my rocks at times.  We lived with one or the other until I was 8.  Then every summer until I was 13 I was sent home to visit.   They taught me all sort of things and took me all sorts of places.  Each was very different and even as a young girl I can remember thinking that they couldn’t be less a like. 

Grandmother Arvin was an officer’s wife.  She had pictures and stories from all over the world. I played dress up in her old 1950-60s taffeta dresses and costume jewelry.  However, under it all she was still, at times, the rural farm girl.  She canned, gardened, make dinner for sick friends, participated in civic events, and was very down to earth.  A brilliant woman, she gave up her dreams of college to be a wife and mother.  She told me once she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Maxine Armstong Arvin
High School Picture
Her one bad habit (besides loving hard candies and being diabetic) was chain smoking.  Prescribed to her as a stress reliever during WWII, she could never quite kick the habit.  I have vivid memories of her sitting at her kitchen table for hours with a small glass of orange juice, hard core bodice ripper novel in one hand, and a cigarette in the other.  She came to live with us while I was in high school and we cared for her until her death during my junior year.

Grandmother Combs was a retired school teacher and very, very stubborn.  She seemed to fight tooth and nail her whole life for everything and wasn’t afraid to let you know her opinion.  Grandma lived in the same town her entire life and wasn’t going to be told she couldn’t do anything.  She traveled, severed in many organizations for teachers and professional women, and earned a master’s degree.  I know at times she was a handful, but her spunk and go get ‘em attitude always made me admire her. 

Ruth Brennan Combs
First Communion Picture
We were always on the move at her house visiting people, seeing things, or even doing crafts.  As a former kindergarten teacher she always had an overflowing stash of construction paper and crafty objects.  You could never keep her down, which is why when I think she didn’t feel she could be “normal” again after her surgeries for colon cancer, grandma literally gave up.  She died when I was a junior in college, the week before Christmas.

It makes me sad that my kids will not have the honor of meeting these amazing people.  There are times that I look back on that time of my life and wish that I had spent more time with them, thanked them more, and told them I loved them more.  As a teenager you sometimes do not realize what types of gifts are in front of you until you lose them.


  1. Do you have any ancestors from Kentucky?

    1. Many, on both sides. Majority of my family came through Kentucky from VA/MD/NC on their way to Indiana. Many of the collateral lines stayed, but my direct lines were there one generation or less and kept moving.

  2. Have you noticed that Maxine has an interesting asymmetrical face?

    And Ruth's angelic pose reminds me of your youngest when he is trying to be charming .... !

    1. Until you said those things I had not noticed them. Maxine always said that most people didn't find her beautiful, but she won them over with her wicked sense of humor and nature.

      Ruth, well, she never stopped doing that angelic bit. Particularly when you caught her at something. My youngest hadn't met her I would blame that on her as well.