My mother, Jean Braun Winship, was born on January 2, 1916, and died on March 27, 2003. She had a long life with her share of difficulties, but she always tried, quietly, to rise above them. I have some stories from her, of her childhood, and I don’t want to lose them, so here they are:
My grandfather, William Braun, was very thrifty. When, as a little girl, my mother walked through the bottoms of her shoes, he beat her for wearing them out. After that, she put cardboard in the bottoms and hoped he wouldn’t see the holes. That worked until you stepped in a puddle, she told me, her eyes rolling as she remembered the sensation.
Her treats and amusements were necessarily of the free variety. When men paved the streets, my mother and her friends would chase after them and pick up bits of tar to chew. In the same manner, my mother got a free smallpox vaccination at a work site. The men were lined up, Mom was interested, and the doctor said sure, but you’ll have to ask your mother. Grandma gave the nod and my mother soon had a vaccination scar worthy of a construction worker.
Mom didn’t go to the movies — they cost money and my grandmother found them too suggestive. Mom had a favorite record, which she played over and over until Grandpa came into the room, removed it from the gramophone and shattered it. He was, as you might gather, a man of action.
For a period of a year or two, during the Depression, the family — William and Cora, Jean and Rhea — ate the same three foods for every meal, two items at a time. There might be noodles and prunes for breakfast, noodles and tapioca for lunch, and prunes and tapioca for dinner. For most of the rest of her life, my mother couldn’t look at any of the three without having to catch her breath. On Sundays, Grandma prepared a small piece of meat, which Grandpa ate while his wife and daughters watched.
Grandpa’s frugality extended to medical care. He waited until Mom was in high school to send her to the dentist. One visit only, and he wasn’t going to pay for Novocaine. Mom had about a dozen cavities; Dr. Hager drilled each cavity out with one steady stroke, this in the era before water-cooled drills. “The smoke poured out of my mouth,” Mom said. She didn’t even try to describe the pain. Grandpa wasn’t about to pay for bus fare, so Mom walked home afterwards.
She didn’t get eyeglasses for a long time either, but did get to ride the bus home after that appointment, and she told me how wonderful it was to be able to read all the signs. She told me that story the day she drove me home with my new glasses, and we smiled together at a shared miracle.
When Mom was a senior at Bennett High School, she went on a class trip. She didn’t have a dress to wear, so Grandma took down the drapes and made her one. It was a pretty dress. Later in life, Mom would take many trips — using the money my grandfather saved on shoe leather, Novocaine and bus fare — and she enjoyed them thoroughly.