Letters from Grandmother Mary: Just Do Your Best!

In October 2011, I received two letters from my grandmother, Mary. What is unusual about that? I never knew Grandmother Mary because she passed away in 1944, twelve years before my birth.

My second cousin discovered these letters stashed away for decades in her mother's closet. She knew I would want them, so she mailed them to me. I consider them a treasure from the past.

I had always wondered what my grandmother was like and had thought my mother's family would have been closer if Grandmother Mary had lived. After reading these letters she wrote to her sister-in-law, Loy, I think I am correct. Grandpa remarried twice; you get the idea. Mary would have hosted family dinners and sleepovers for grandkids. Unfortunately, these events never happened, so my cousins and I missed out on family bonding.

Letters from the 1940s

In a letter dated January 9, 1943, Mary wrote about her concerns about Walter, her oldest son during World War II. "They are taking hundreds his age. If he only has to be in camp, it won't be so bad, but I can hardly stand the thought of him going across the pond."  Yes, Uncle Walter did go across the pond. For a few months, he was missing in action, but he made it home safely in 1945.

Her own experience with illness

In an earlier letter dated October 4, 1942, my grandmother wrote to her sister-in-law, "Well, Loy, I was able to walk to the schoolhouse last Friday. (It was a mile and a half walk!) I couldn't have done that a month ago."

Sadly, Grandmother Mary was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a contagious infection caused by bacteria that mainly affects the lungs. She spent most of 1944 in the hospital, passing away on November 9, 1944. My mother remembers how Mary would cough up blood, which sounds terrible.

Grandmother died at the age of 42, leaving behind seven children. Five of them were still at home. My grandpa said Mary felt guilty eating a meal in the hospital because she worried her children weren't eating well.

Mary's granddaughter has MDS

In 2017, I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a blood cancer that causes bone marrow failure. I was 61 and had recently retired. I wondered if my life was ending.

Do you ever talk to yourself about your circumstances? My conversation goes something like this: "You don't feel well, and your back is hurting, but try to do something today. Maybe you can catch up on some correspondence. You can clean the house tomorrow. Just do your best."

I also remind myself that many people struggle more than I do.

She said just do your best

My grandmother was a farm housewife who wanted her children to do well. The family was poor; just about everyone was in the 1930s. The 1930s was called the Great Depression for a good reason, but Mary would remind them, "Just do your best."

The family took her death very hard. I have two cousins named Mary; my aunts wanted to honor their mother. My uncle wouldn't talk about her, even when he was 90. "She was a saint," he said. I don't doubt it.

See you when I get there!

Do you think it is possible to miss someone you never knew? One of the first people I hope to meet in heaven is Grandmother Mary. I will tell her that I think she would have been a loving grandmother, and I wish I could have known her in life.

I will also tell her that I did my best.

In memory of Mary Philliber Hawes, October 12, 1902 -- November 9, 1944

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