One of my great regrets in life is that I never really got to know my grandparents as an adult.
Technically, I was an adult at the end of their lives; they all passed away when I was in my mid-twenties, but I hadn’t yet learned the value of their life experiences. I lost out on the singular opportunity to question them, learn about their lives, and see the world through their eyes. When they died I was still viewing them through the grandparent prism and hadn’t realized them as the human beings that they were.
It is only now, after I’ve become a mother, that I can look back on their lives, my paternal grandmother’s in particular, and realize what an amazing woman she was. Ethel Louise Gelpke Butler experienced great adversity and yet she persevered, managing to turn an often troubled life into an adventure during which she never stopped learning and enriching herself.
She was a well-educated professional in the 1940s, working as a hospital dietitian when she met a man who told her he was widowed when he was actually married. When she became pregnant he tried to get her to have an abortion. When she refused he took off and she never saw him again. When her father learned of the pregnancy he banished her from the family home.
Despite her dad and even though it was scandalous and rare at this time for a single woman to become pregnant and raise a child on her own, she had the baby and bravely struck out west to find a job. She ended up in Utah, where I was eventually born. Her early years in Utah were not easy ones. She endured a ferociously abusive marriage that she escaped with her five sons so she could live life on her own terms.
I never knew these things about her while she was alive. It is only now, years after her death following a courageous battle with Alzheimer’s, that I realize just how tough my sweet, little grandma really was. As I’ve pieced together her life story, I’ve come away with these life lessons from my grandma that I will pass on to my own beautiful daughter.
Here they are:
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