Midway through my pregnancy, I ran across an antique necklace in my jewelry box and felt compelled to wear it. Only after I had clasped it around my neck did I remember it had been my great-great grandmother’s. I didn’t know much about the woman whose necklace I wore—not even her first name. My grandma always referred to her simply as “Grandma Fischel.” I do know this: she was very dear to my grandma, having helped raise her.
Shortly after my great-great grandfather returned from WWII, my great-grandmother became pregnant with their fourth child. While she was caring for her three children under age five, my great-grandfather left her for another woman, who was also pregnant with his child. My great-grandmother, the toughest woman I have ever met, and who will be 100 this January, bought a motorcycle and went to work. A single, divorced mother working several jobs to support her children was not so common in the late 1940s. One might even call it a scandal.
My great-great grandmother was well into her years by the time she moved in to help take care of her grandchildren. The house had two rooms, a parlor/kitchen and a room where everyone slept. Despite the hardship of those years, my grandma always spoke fondly of that time. Of course, as a child she was somewhat shielded from the pain of the adult world. Still, her happiness says a lot about “Grandma Fischel” and the special person she must have been.
My daughter Ariel, now just over a year old, is the sixth generation from Grandma Fischel. I ran across my grandma’s memoir a couple weeks ago and finally looked up my great-great grandmother’s name. Florence.
But I learned more than that. My great-great grandfather died when she was pregnant with my great-grandmother, her ninth surviving child. I can’t imagine the loss of her beloved (as well as provider and protector) on top of the strain, vulnerability, and emotional rawness of being pregnant. Florence’s life, of which I know so little, was fraught with difficulty from then on, as she cared for her newborn and struggled to support the four other children still at home. Then years later, after surviving that hardship, she saw her youngest in a similar crisis and came to her aid. She knew what to do.
It is no surprise, then, that I was drawn to her necklace. Pregnancy, though natural and beautiful, is also uncertain. The health of the mother or child could change at any moment due to any number of factors. Nothing is guaranteed. It’s easy to forget that I had those fears now that everything has turned out fine. At the time, the necklace helped me draw on the strength of those who had come before.
I have her necklace, and now I know her name.