Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gladys, a quietly remarkable woman

This is Gladys Botkin O'Banion, my grandmother; my mother's mother.

I have been reading a series of wonderful books by Sharon Kaye Penman about the reign of Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  As I read about Eleanor, I kept seeing my grandmother's face; strong, proud, beautiful and brave, above all...brave.  That was Mommaw alright, beautiful and brave. 

I started thinking about her, and remembering things that I took for granted about her.

She grew up poor, as so many in her time did, but she had brains and talent and pluck. Can you see the "Pluck" in these two photographs? Yep, she was a piece of work as they say. She also had a fairy Godfather who sent her to beauty school .  He was a doctor named Barton. I am named after him, as is my mother, Lenora Barton O'Banion Spicer.  She worked hard and learned a trade. She because a beautician.  Being the wily, practical woman that she was, she did not balk at being whatever here customers saw her to be. Due to her Native American heritage (her father was one quarter Cherokee) she had an "ethnic" look to her. Some thought she was Jewish, so when the Jewish ladies needed their hair done, she was "Jewish". When the nice Italian ladies needed a permanent, she became Italian.  She got a lot of work that way.  Did I mention she was smart?

She was also single-mindedly determined.  When she was a freshman in high school, she saw a skinny, red-haired boy named Louis and she turned to her friend and said, "That is the boy I am going to marry." 

And she did.  And she loved him fiercely and protectively all the rest of their life together.  He was everything to her.  She loved her children and her grandchildren and all of her family and friends, but Elmer Louis O'Banion was the center of her universe.  

She was always much stronger than he was, but she never let him know that. She was the master of making him feel that he was the king of the world, and to her, he was.

When he went Europe in World War II, she was the one who worked to make a living, took care of their three children and anyone else in the family who needed a hand. She was forever taking in strays until they could "get back on their feet".  It would never have occurred to her to say no.  They were "did" for family; that's just he way it was. 

 She made sure that Poppaw had letters and pictures of the kids while he was "over there".  I still have the photographs she sent to him with the notes written on the backs. "We love you Daddy." "We miss you Daddy." 

She was a terrific grandmother.  Not your typical cookies and milk sort of grandmother, but sort of glamorous and elegant.  She could always be counted on for a coke and a good yarn. She treated you like a "person" not a kid.  And she could always make you feel special.

She was "different".  I believe she would have preformed surgery on her kitchen table if need be.  She had us believing that she was a witch with special powers.  If you asked her a question you always got an answer even if she had to make one up. 

Things I rememer about her: She liked strong iced tea with lemon.  She liked Kraft Mayonnaise and bologna sandwiches.  She liked to savor her coffee and cigarette after dinner without being concerned about the dishes; she'd get to them later so "leave them the hell alone." 

She was the kind of woman who could wear a feathered tiara and make it work. God I loved her!
 She never gave up.

She worked from the time she was a teenager until she was 79 years old.  She finally had to start going to the nursing home to "do hair" because some of her customers had gotten so old they couldn't come to the shop any more, so she went to them.

And she didn't abandon them even when they died. She went to the funeral home to do their hair that one last time.

There is one story about Gladys that sort of sums her up.  She had a lady who cleaned for her who had a son.  He was going to quit school to work because they didn't have much money. But Mommaw talked him into staying in school and I am sure, helped them out with money so he could stay in school.  When it came time for the boy to graduate,  he was embarassed because he didn't have very nice clothes to wear to the ceremony, so Mommaw went out an bought him a good shirt to wear to graduation. She gave it to his mother to give to him. I don't know if the boy ever knew; I doubt it. She wouldn't have wanted him too. But that was who she was, a quietly remarkable woman.

She died peacefully in bed at my mother's home two days before her 94th birthday.

(Baby Gladys with her mother, Ellen Links


  1. I want you to know I hung on each word here. I enjoyed..I'll even say loved this true story..this narrative of love for this beautiful beautiful woman. She stayed beautiful in form and face until she passed away. And she certainly was beautiful in character and heart.

    That photo of your grandfather and grandmother together was glorious. What a handsome couple they were.

    I wish I had really known my grandparents like that. They all lived quite a distance from daddy (who reared me) and I. We went to go see them once, maybe twice a year and only for a weekend as daddy had to work.

    Thank you for this lovely and real experience that you shared. I gained a lot from it. Seeing love and family is always a reward to me.

  2. That was one of the best entries I've ever read. Great job Ann!

  3. By the way I hope I corrected the problems you and some folks were having getting into my blog. Please let me know Ann. You too Carole!

  4. Ann, I cant even tell you how much I loved this story about your Grandmother, the history also everything she did. Took me back a few years to family also on my Dads side.
    She is beautiful and I can see you look a bit like her. I love history in this form. How intersting it all was back then compared to today. Its funny how people make do with what they have but they do and we still do to this day. Great we have the internet that makes a big different in many ways.
    Today its different. I too hung on each word and really smilied right thought.
    My Grandfather was in the War also before he was married I think. Some of my history is gone and some I have researched right back.
    Have a wonderful day Ann.
    Thanks for sharing this story Im sure will stay will me for the rest of the day.

  5. Ann this is such a wonderful inspiring story, I am so glad I came back to read it. Must be so wonderful to have someone so inspiring in your life. Even to have been able to be close to older family members that you could really get to know them. I miss that in my life at we moved away from all aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. Now I don't even live near any of my immediate family. Knowing your families history and characters can add so much more to who you are... Thanks again for sharing... Hugs Carrie