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My grandmother was Rosie the Riveter during World War II.  Actually, she was a welder at a shipyard in Mobile, Alabama while my grandfather was off in the Army.  My dad was a toddler during this time, so he was left in the care of her parents while she traveled the 90 miles to work.  Each Monday morning, my grandmother rose hours before dawn to walk several miles to town and board a bus back to Mobile.  Each Friday night, after a rigorous and exhausting week, she would board a bus back home.  She recalled that most trips she stood the entire way.
Hard work was nothing new however.  As a child, she spent her summers in the cotton fields helping her family eke out a living. Growing up with 5 brothers, she learned at an early age to not let them see her cry.
She eventually became a professional seamstress for a manufacturing company.  I remember her telling me of the times that she sewed right through her fingers.  I am cringing now thinking about it.
When my grandfather became seriously ill, she became the sole bread winner.  She suffered from arthritis but instead of letting it slow her down, she fought back.  Somewhere she read that fire ant venom was a possible cure or could help lessen the pain of arthritis.  Since she lived in southern Alabama, fire ants were readily available. I remember that she would go stick her hands in a fire ant hill and come back to the house with her arms and hands covered in bites.  If you have never had a fire ant bite, then you can't understand how painful those bites were.  It must have helped her though because she did it until the fire ants would no longer bite her.  Maybe after all those bites, she began to "smell" like a fire ant to them.
She loved to cook and  could make a dinner for surprise guests without a moment's notice.  Her pecan pies were known far and wide.  She didn't rely on recipes, but seasoned based on taste and experience.  She rarely used measuring cups either.  There was one recipe that got the best of her though.  When I went off to college, she wanted a pound cake that I had often made for her.  She made that cake three times and three times, that cake didn't turn out.  It is a good thing that she had her own chickens because that cake took something like 5 eggs and 3 or 4 cups of flour.  When I came home at Christmas, I barely made it in the house before she had me in the kitchen making that cake.  When mine came out fine, she about blew a gasket.   We finally figured out that she had been starting with a preheated oven but that cake required that the cake be placed in a cold oven. 
She was a tough old bird and she did things her way and in her own time.  This was true right to the end. Although she hadn't been ill, she had become progressively more frail over the last few years.  One day last August, she fell and broke her hip. My parents made the decision to not insert a feeding tube when she didn't wake up from the anesthesia. The doctor's had predicted that she would be gone in a matter of a day or two. For almost two weeks, I sat beside her bed as her body slowly shut down.
The guilt I felt sitting there, over a decision in which I had no say, still haunts me.  I hope that someday I will be able to forgive that decision. But today, I still miss her.


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