'I let him wonder where I was.'
My grandmother loved my grandfather, but she had a secret mission. And it involved a savings account.
My grandmother married when she was 16.
This was 1947, when it was uncommon for women to have their own bank accounts, and I’ll never forget the story of how she eventually got one.
Let’s go back to that teen marriage.
Her husband, Ed, would become known as a great man, a stern coach and a tireless teacher who eventually worked himself to an early death at age 63 from diabetes and heart disease.
After his passing, he’d have a basketball tournament and gymnasium and scholarship named after him, but I knew him when poor health had stolen his patience and personability.
He couldn’t have been so grumpy as a 20-year-old who fell head-over-heels for my grandmother and married her before anyone else did.
He couldn’t have been so grumpy when he was welcoming his babies to the world and winning state championships and sharing kind, if tough, guidance to his hundreds of athletes and students.
But after decades running up and down basketball courts and football fields, he lost the lower half of one of his legs and the former collegiate athlete struggled with the loss of mobility.
I remember those final years through the fuzz of early childhood, but as I’ve grown older, I realize that he was somewhat insufferable long before he fell ill.
My grandmother loved him deeply, but during her last decade in life, during our many phone calls where we’d catch up like old girlfriends, she’d tell me about the ups and downs of her relationship with my grandfather. I was in my unexpectedly single season, so I’ll tell her about my dates and potential boyfriends, and it became clear that both of us longed for a fully supportive spouse who celebrated our independence as a critical part of the marriage.
I’m not sure if she ever fully got that support from her husband, but she pushed for her independence in ways that she could.
You see, even though her brother went to West Point, college was never really on the table for Gaga. But after her kids weren’t underfoot, she trained to become a dental assistant in the 1960s. Feminism and the idea of gender parity didn’t come to Aurora until much later, so this was a bit of a rarity at the time.
She eventually worked for many decades for the same dentist, and he became one of her closest companions. The relationship never crossed into actual intimacy, but I know their friendship filled her in ways her marriage never could.
Ed tolerated her working. I’m sure he would have preferred her to stay at home, but she had a quiet way of standing up for herself that I can now trace to her mother and even her grandmother, who immigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s.
He kept up a grueling schedule and achieved a lot in his life because of it, but his family paid the price of sharing him with the whole community. The town, in turn, repaid them in accolades and praise. (More than 30 years after his death, my mother still hears from his former football and basketball players about how much Ed meant to them.)
While he was out changing kids’ lives, Gaga was changing her own.
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