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.
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.