My grandmother

I don’t just write thrillers. I’ve been working with my family to put together an album of photos to go with the journal my grandmother wrote — her memoir of growing up in Oklahoma in the ’20s, of starting a young family in the depths of the depression, and her life up through the first decade of the new millennium. Today my aunt sent me this photo, taken when Grandmother was in high school, and asked me how to caption it.

All I can think to say is: Margaret Vessels, 1928. Completely awesome.

This is my grandmother, and how lucky am I?

UPDATE: In the comments, I tell some more of the story.

19 responses to “My grandmother

  1. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Meg, your grandmother must be one special lady. I hope I don’t come off as creepy, but the picture has taken my breath away. Talk about “timeless”….

  2. Your grandmother is beautiful and I can see you in her.

  3. Beautiful photo, Meg! I’m so glad I got to meet your grandmother — a beautiful woman inside and out. You and your two sisters, and of course your mother, have her features. Her journal must be fascinating.

  4. What a beautiful lady.

  5. At last! Proof positive that beauty is hereditary. What a great photo.

  6. Dearest Meg, I have tears in my eyes. You are just so wonderful to have this photo up here for all to see. I love you, Merry Christmas!
    Aunt Maggie

  7. She was stunning, in this photo and in life. And I can so clearly see the family resemblance!

  8. What a lovely picture. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Ah future, you’re all mine.

  10. What a really lovely, striking woman. A face that launched a thousand ships.

    Oklahoma? Please tell me her life was easier than that bunch of Grapes of Wrath morons.

  11. Since you asked: She had to drop out of Oklahoma University her senior year because her family had no money. Her dad had lost his job as a banker because he refused to foreclose on the farmers whose livelihoods had been destroyed by the Dust Bowl. Her family moved to southern Texas, where her dad sold shoes door-to-door to feed his six kids.

    But her college boyfriend couldn’t let her go, so he drove 750 miles over rutted back roads to find her. In a Model T Ford. She was walking through Brownsville when she saw him drive past. She ran down the middle of the street to catch him.

    As my uncle wrote to my mom this morning:

    “Just a reminder. Eighty years ago today, 21-year-old Margaret Vessels & 23-year-old F.C. Love got married by the parish priest, in a little parish rectory in Brownsville Texas, with just a few members of Margaret’s immediate family present. A very bare bones affair. I wonder what ever eventuated from that little event?”

    December 29, 1931.

    What eventuated? Forty seven years of marriage, seven kids, twenty-five grandkids, of whom I was the first. Also decades of volunteer work: she helped build a hospital in Guatemala, and was a founder of the St. Anthony Hospital Volunteer League in OKC, where she worked every week for forty years. She was a member of the hospital’s Foundation Board. And she was there the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. St. Anthony was two blocks from the Murrah building, and it’s where many of the wounded were taken. As I’ve written here before, she was eighty-four and she stayed at the hospital until midnight, doing whatever needed doing. She told me she’d never felt as despondent about humanity as she did that day, yet at the same time so inspired by people’s selflessness — women and men from all over the city, the state, and the country phoned to ask what they could give: food, blankets, their own blood?

    St. Anthony has since opened The Margaret Vessels Love Surgical Center in her honor.

    I have some mementoes: the dress she wore to a dinner at the White House. The issues of the Atlantic Monthly and Foreign Affairs that arrived the week she passed away. Poems she wrote. And a lifetime of inspiration. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have had such a woman showing me how to live.

  12. That is amazing. What a loss that she isn’t here anymore. I bet it was wonderful to listen to her stories. But, obviously she is represented well in her family. THanks for sharing that.

  13. You’re very welcome, Dana Jean. Yes, she had stories to tell. I’m smiling, just thinking about it all.

  14. A few days ago, after seeing your grandmother’s bold gaze, I was tempted to write, “Margaret the Vampire Slayer?” and to ask if her high school was located above a hellmouth, but didn’t, because I didn’t want it to be taken as snide. Having read your sketch of your grandmother’s life above, I think my initial instincts were right: It sounds like your grandmother “saved the world, a lot,” too – but for real. People like her are the ones who make you think the world’s actually worth saving.

  15. Jason: She didn’t slay vampires, but rumors abound about what she did to a particularly mean chicken… One of the kids had been given a baby chick as an Easter present, and it grew into a clawing, crowing, ankle-pecking (but beloved by the kid) rooster. My grandmother said the thing kept getting into fights — with birds, cats, dogs — and getting torn up, but it would never, ever die. Each time she thought it was a goner, it would spring back to life, as fearsome as ever. Nothing could kill the damned thing.

    Then, mysteriously, one day it disappeared.

    Any relatives want to fill in the blanks? Aunt Maggie? Aunt Bill?

    • Maybe she finally realized that the rooster’s owner was secretly making repeat trips to the wendigo-haunted Native American burial ground (way) out back and put a stop to it. Yeah, I read too much.

  16. Grandmother in the chicken coop with a large bag and a shovel.

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