Sunday, August 07, 2011

My Grandmother Pauline: A Life-Long Story 1914-2011

(Part 1 of My Grandmother Pauline's Story)   This is Part 2 of Pauline's Story
Pauline 1914-2011

A tornado swooped down into the Beech Creek Hollow of Tennessee in 1936 and several lost their lives. My dad, a small boy, told of being lifted into the air by the cyclone and Daddy grabbing his ankles to pull him down. 

The tornado did take Pauline's mother, Sally May, on that fateful day. She got up to shut the door of the rough-hewn house and her treadle sewing machine came crashing into the back of her head, killing her. Years later I remember the story being told as if yesterday, tears in the eyes of those who knew Pauline's mother, as they gently pulled back the rag rug covering the blood stain on the ancient wood floor. It was a violence they didn't get over.

But Willie, Pauline's Dad, was still young and he remarried. He married a woman called Tildie (Tilda) and Pauline warmed to her Dad's choice for a bride. This was the woman I remember. "Tildie" was more like a term of endearment. Even so, no one forgot Sally May, Pauline's mother who had so many children. 

The years were difficult with Roy teetering between bouts of alcohol and gambling, and preaching the Bible at a church. At least twice he gambled away the family business. Pauline kept working during these up-and-down roller coaster days of the 1940s and 1950s. Some went off to WWII, including several in the family and her brother-in-law, Pat Warren (he was at Pearl Harbor and lived to tell about it.) Then, the 1950s came along with my dad marrying my mother and their lives once again were marked with conflict--this time the Korean Conflict. 

Wilburn in the army

Wilburn Warren, U.S. Army
In 1953 when my dad was summoned to go into the army, he took his new bride of two years home to his parents so she would have people to live with and take care of her while he was gone. My grandparents still had small children at home--a son, a daughter and a granddaughter, but they scooted over and took "Lin"(my mother, Lillian was called this by his family) right into their hearts and home.

Pauline worked, Roy had a job, too, and so, it was decided that Lin would care for the children at home. During the time Pauline's son was away, there was a lot for them all to get used to, but Pauline took it all in stride. Lin had an education, had worked in a hospital and had a natural way with discipline and love with kids, so it wasn't a trial, but a time for love to grow among the family. That time bonded them all. 

By 1956 not only was Wilburn home, but Lin had 5 miscarriages. Wilburn took a job driving a semi-truck hauling automobile parts in the Midwest in November of 1957, so they settled in Indiana to be close to Lillian's sisters and to be close to the dispatch terminal of Wilburn's job. Then, I was born. I was a miracle baby and Lillian wasn't sure she would ever be able to have another child.
Wilburn Warren with his new baby, Crystal
Pauline was anxious to see this miracle baby grandchild with white blonde hair, but she would have to be satisfied with photos for awhile because everyone had to work, and no one had money to travel, anyway. My mother named me Crystal before anyone could influence anymore name choices (Pauline suggested Sally--her mother's name, the one who died in 1936 in the tornado.) But Lillian had her way and the name Crystal was it. 

When the Tennessee family got the card announcing my name, puzzled, they said, "Why would she name that darlin' 'Cry-Tail'?" until Linda pointed out it was Crystal. So, not to be totally out done, they settled on calling the new family member Crissy. To this day that part of the family calls me Cris or Crissy. I answer to any variation. 

Lillian's mother died from TB when Lillian was only 5-years-old. And it looked as if her mother's fate would also be hers. Lillian had 9 siblings, but I had none. In 1958 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was required to go to the Irene Byron Hospital in Ft. Wayne, to have her TB treated. She had to find someone to care for me full time, as my dad needed to keep working as a truck driver, so once again, Wib called his mother and asked if she would take me.

Everyone knew there was a chance my mother would not survive. So, I was taken to Tennessee and my mother made her mother-in-law promise that if she survived and came home, she wanted me back. Grandmother said ok. 
Mama Pauline taking care of her granddaughter
My mother said once that if she had known what she was in for, she might not have made it. One surgery was so invasive, it would seem the "cure" would kill her. They removed all but one lobe of one lung and broke and caved the rest of the ribs on the empty side to fill the cavity. It was brutal. She lived the rest of her life trying to breathe. Any physical labor was difficult.
Crystal in Tennessee in a dress fashioned by Pauline (I still have this dress, it is see-through blue.)

Meanwhile in Tennessee, Linda, a young aunt of only 13 took care of her baby niece. I slept in her bed. She would stick a bottle in my mouth to keep me quiet. (This later would cause me a lot of painful surgeries.) It was a lot of responsibility for a young teen, but with everyone else working to survive, it was the only option. Linda ended up quitting school. (Later she would go on and get her GED and became very successful in business.) 
Crystal with Granddaddy Warren in Tennessee
There are no photos of Aunt Linda and me that I've ever seen. I think she took all of the photos, so she wasn't in them. Once, her daughter, Annette, told me that I had scribbled in all of Aunt Linda's yearbooks and books (obviously, as a toddler I wanted to "write.") Annette said it in a way that made me realize I was a burden and a hardship to them all. As an adult I only heard a few snippets of my time with them. I'm sure it was especially hard on my Aunt Linda and she didn't really want me there at the time.

Aunt Linda, a young teen in this photo, who had to take care of me

It looked as though they would be "keeping" me as things weren't too bright in Indiana. But as the months turned to a year and then beyond, Grandmother Pauline wrote letters and would have me to "write" to my mother. "Mama Lin" was someone people around me talked about but I didn't know who she was. 

Crystal at Christmas in Tennessee. My mother's photo was placed next to me. My mother cried all day when she received this photo.

Because my Grandmother had become "Mama" and Granddaddy was now "Daddy, " I later would be very confused when I finally did go home to get reacquainted with my parents.

Linda took photos to send to Lin, Pauline labored over letters that she really didn't have time to write just so my mother would have information on her only child. Finally an opportunity came for my mother to see me. My Dad came through to pick my mother up for a weekend leave from the hospital. She was under strict orders to not leave the area as she was still recovering. Lin was stubborn and she got my Dad to slip off on a whirlwind trip to Tennessee, which would take many hours on treacherous back roads. She endured the trip there and back in order to see me.

One of the photos snapped by Aunt Linda

One of the "posed" photos by Aunt Linda--she had me imitating Bub Pope, someone they knew

Lillian on her AWOL weekend from the hospital. No doubt she wasn't supposed to be lifting weight.


jel said...

hey Crystal,
sorry ya lost your grndmaw.
she she sounds like she was quite a lady.

thank you for sharing this about her!


Story and Logic Media Group said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Crystal.

Abigail-Madison Chase said...

what a wonderful tribute to your grandmother.....

Shawn said...

Hi Crystal, I just came across this blog in the course of doing research on the 1936 tornado, and I was wondering whether you might be able to share any more information with me. Also, if you don't mind, I'd like your permission to include the story in my article.

Would you mind emailing me at