This is the first part of a two part series of columns.
I have been blessed by having two remarkable grandmothers in my life.
My Grandmother Cavanaugh was the very glue that was responsible for raising seven children, and she babysat me until I was 4.
I am positive that was harder than raising her children. I know she has a very special place in Heaven.
As much as I loved my Grandmother Cavanaugh, as I grew older, my Grandmother Cope became my love and inspiration.
My Grandmother Cope would have been 112 this year. I miss her and everyday I thank her for the strength and character she gave me. To this day when I fall short, I feel I have disappointed her.
She was born in Charlottesville, VA, in 1898. Her father, my great-grandfather, was a hauler. He was killed when she was very young when a wagon he was fixing rolled over him. My great-grandmother died soon after that.
My grandmother and her two sisters and a brother were placed in a new school for orphans that was located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, close to Charlottesville.
The orphanage was named after its benefactor, a Mr. Miller. The Miller School had been a military school and is now a co-ed prep school. The old school itself has been the background for many military movies. On the wall of the Miller School is still a plaque of some sort placed by my grandmother when she was a child that says "Ann Stratton."
She stayed in that school until she was 18 and received in what was in those days an education that was equivalent to a college degree today.
She first became a teacher then became one of the first women to serve her country, joining the Yeomenets during World War I, a move that was to pay off for her proudly in her later years.
After the war she met and married my grandfather, Frank Cope, a very dashing Tennessean who served as a special guard to the White House during WWI. They moved to Arizona and my mother was born in Phoenix.
I suspect she thought she would settle down to a long happy life of being a mother and a housekeeper in Arizona
But my grandfather received a serious head injury in a work accident, and although he was very talented, he never could settle down in a serious job after that.
My grandmother had to become the breadwinner for a family that now included two daughters. So they moved back east.
She began a job working for the federal government in Washington, D.C. Over the years she rose to the rank of Chief of Teletype, which for women in those days was a remarkable responsibility and placed her way ahead of her time.
Being head of Teletype for the Veterans Administration in the late 1940s and early 1950s was the same as being a head of the whole communications system for that department today. My grandmother retired in 1954 and settled down to an earned life of retirement.
I loved to visit my grandmother and grandfather during the summer months when I was out of school. I got to watch wrestling (I can still remember Gorgeous George and Antonio Rocco), eat ice cream, drink soft drinks and staying up late.
My grandmother wasn’t the greatest cook, but on Sundays she would fix the best fried chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy and lima beans you ever ate.
During the summer of 1960, I slipped under a lawnmower and cut a few toes off. I spent most of the summer of that year in the hospital while they tried to save my big toe.
During that time I became a fat, spoiled, ruthless little brat.
Finally in August the decision was made that my large toe was not going to make it.
I soon went home to recuperate with my crutches and with the notion that I would not walk right again. I went to stay with my grandmother so I could continue my spoiled rotten ways.
My grandparents lived across the street from a big shopping center that contained a large drug store. That was the home of an old-fashioned snack counter where you could get the coldest lemonade and the best ice cream.
On the first day, with me being in a wheelchair, I was the center of attention of the kids in the neighborhood and of course every night I had my ice cream and drinks with my grandparents.
On the third day I awoke to find my crutches and wheelchair gone, and in their place was a cane.
I asked my grandmother what was going on. She told me it was time for me to start walking, that not doing so was all in my head.
I cried. I wailed. I threw fits and told her I could not walk right and I never would.
She told me that if wished to continue to eat ice cream or drink lemonade at her house I was going to have to walk over to that drug store alone and get what I needed.
I looked across the street and that drugstore now looked like it was five miles away.
I told her I would not do it, so for three more days my grandparents ate their ice cream and drank their drinks in front of me.
In spite of every emotion I showed them, they refused to share.
On the fourth day it, not only was it the hottest day of the summer, but for some reason the air conditioning mysteriously didn’t work.
I finally had enough. I grabbed that cane and dragged myself across that street and up past about 15 stores with sweat pouring out of every pore of my body and people stopping to look at me.
I cursed. I cried. I yelled. But I finally dragged myself into that drug store, which was so cool.
I just stood there and panted until the coolness sunk in.
I limped up to the counter and ordered everything I wanted and I did so until I got sick. But the bottom line was, and what my grandmother taught me is that I could walk and I could do anything else I ever wanted to do if I put my mind to it.
...to be continued.
T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The Rockdale News.