She has a story too

My grandfather’s mother died when he was two. For the next six years, he was raised by his older sisters. Then his father re-married. The boy had a mother again.

Apparently it wasn’t a warm relationship. I picked this up once from an aunt’s comment, something about the stepmother being unkind or their not getting along. Immediately I took my grandfather’s side and, on his behalf, disliked the woman too.

Stepmother, 1857-1933, Russia

It’s not that I thought about her much, but this week, while organizing old photos I’ve accumulated, I came across a photo of the great-grandparent couple as well as separate photos of each. I put the couple and great-grandfather photos in the album but decided not to bother with the stepmother’s. I felt antipathy again.

One is grateful for any countering nudge, however. (Hoping it’s some sign of well-aged wisdom.) It occurred to me that the stepmother had a story too. In fact, bits of it could be discovered in our family pages. She was 41 when she married, 16 years younger than her husband, and marriage for her was “not easy.” Single before, she was now mother of seven, ranging from 8 to 28 years.

I also learned she brought her inheritance into the marriage, enabling a face-lift for the “modest, shabby” house, which had been in the Harder family since 1802, as well as a new machine shed. She brought a pile of feather pillows and duvets. “Everything was very well looked after,” a grandchild recalled. This makes especially poignant the losses of all these things after the Russian Revolution. Step-great-grandmother died in 1933 during a time of famine, and when she died “she had no bed but was sleeping on a ragbag with one sheet because their beds and bedding had been confiscated.”

Her photo is now in the album too.



Don’t be trusting!

This morning at our monthly North of 60 meeting a local police constable talked to us about several topics of particular relevance to seniors: elder abuse and scams.

It was grim and cautionary stuff and a reminder that getting older is not for the faint of heart. Why are seniors targeted? Some reasons: we’re too trusting; easy marks; often relatively wealthy (savings for the final stage etc.); too polite; often lonely and isolated; can be easily intimidated. The officer told us that we don’t need to answer the door, for example, and that the revenue agency or police will never phone and threaten or ask for money. Those emails that say we’ve won something or have some distant relative who left us in their will? Scams. “If something is too good to be true, it probably is.” Simply hang up on those calls, or don’t answer a number you don’t recognize. The so-called grandchild stranded at roadside and needing money? Say you’ll call back in five minutes and hang up. “Slow down — take the emotion out of it — analyze — check.”

Scammer are very clever and keep changing tactics. “Don’t be trusting!” the officer declared.

Right now this all seems obvious and easy enough. Some day it may not be. So of course I  will need to do some trusting. I’m thinking it’s important to figure out who to trust ahead of time, to foster a community of integrity around oneself. Wills and power of attorney documents need to be in place. In our case, we trust our children, but we need to keep letting them into our lives — all of them in various ways, as checks and balance — so they know what’s going on with us. We must also stay informed about safety issues and local help-resources.