Last week was my Grandmother’s birthday. She was a wonderful woman with a smile that shone through even some of incredibly difficult times.
She moved to America from her beloved but increasingly hostile Germany as a tiny 3 year old. I don’t know much about the struggles this young German woman faced growing up here, but I know there was some degree of prejudice. This white woman faced racism in America.
And yet, she made many friends and loved this country.
The car accident happened before I was born.
Grandma was driving my aunts and uncles on vacation when her car skidded on sand on the side of the road in Michigan. The car tumbled down the side of a ravine, and, in the days before seat belts, everyone was throw from the vehicle.
Most of my aunts and uncles climbed from the ravine, bleeding, scarred, with stitches and bones broken set…but not everyone was so fortunate.
My Grandmother and uncle were thrown from the car and each suffered a broken back.
My Grandmother would recover. My uncle would not.
In an instant, this inner city football star with a promising future was paralyzed.
After years of silence caused by painful memories, I’ve just begun hearing my aunt talk about finding her younger brother, bleeding, hurt, scared but okay and about climbing up that hill with him, listening to the screams of their paralyzed brother – praying they wouldn’t find him, praying that they would.
My aunt doesn’t go to church anymore.
I don’t know the name of the nurse who pulled over that day. I can’t imagine what she thought as she saw children scrambling up that hill or were they already on the side of the road when she stopped? I don’t know and won’t ask.
But this woman is a hero, and I thank God for her often now. In those days, nurses were allowed to carry morphine. I believe she had it on her to give to her husband who was suffering from cancer. I pray he got the refill he needed soon after. This nurse, I know little about climbed down the ravine and found my uncle screaming in pain and fear to give him the injection needed to quiet his sobs – at least until help arrived to transport him to specialists in Green Bay, WI.
Could I have smiled after that? Could I have smiled knowing I had been driving the car that caused such pain? Would I have selfishly let myself sink into self-guilt and carried the family further into despair? I don’t know.
I do know Grandma smiled almost all the time when I knew her. I know that my uncle, despite having no feeling in his legs, learned to walk again and even reffed our CYO basketball games. I know my uncle, a near genius, found other strengths and became an inspiration to me and to so many others.
Life really does change in a heartbeat.
But we must keep our faith and hour hope and our smile.
I was old enough to remember the fire that burned my Grandparents’ house to the ground. Total devastation. Nothing was left.
My Grandparents had recently returned from a trip to visit relatives in Grandma’s native Germany. My Grandmother’s Grandfather had been a jewelry maker and had passed on beautiful handcrafted items my Grandparents returned with along with a Cross hundreds of years old that had been passed on to our family for generations. In the hard to remember days before the internet, my Grandparents had traced our roots back hundreds of years by traveling across Ireland for my Grandfather’s family and throughout Germany for my Grandmother’s family. I remember hearing them talk about the trains being checked for people who may have tried to escape from behind the iron curtain. The pictures Grandma painted when she told stories left an impression on my mind even then.
It was a different time, a time before television had hundreds of channels and the world wide web delivered instant visual images to your kitchen table.
It was a time when even all of those priceless family documents were kept on paper in the family home.
All of the jewelry, the Cross, the family records…all of it GONE. One electrical fire, started behind the refrigerator, and everything was gone in a matter of minutes.
I remember Grandma in a state of shock trying to pick through the rubble. I remember my aunt’s brother, a fire inspector, trying to salvage a few pieces. I remember.
But I also remember my Grandmother finding good.
At least no one was home.
At least no one was hurt.
At least some pictures were saved.
At least they still had a small apartment and wouldn’t be homeless.
At least…at least after a while, Grandma would smile again, and they would rebuild – better, stronger.
Life really does change in a heartbeat.
Grandma – she faced hardships beyond my little divorce – and she kept on smiling.
And when I needed to come up with a pseudonym, I thought of Grandma and the German language she loved and had promised to teach me one day, and using Google translate or some other program, I typed in Smiling and German and came up with Strahlen, and it just seemed to click.
Strahlen – Smiling
Because life is good
even when it’s bad.
How Did I Pick the Name Smith?
Well, no long story to that one. I just needed a name quickly while while writing Tuesday’s post and Smith seemed to go with Strahlen so there you go.
that’s the new me, the name change I made after my divorce. It may seem a bit odd, but Strahlen Smith protected my identity, protected my boys especially while they were all very young, and reminded me every day that I was not the person my ex-husband was trying to make me out to be. I don’t plan to keep my real name a secret forever, but for now, that’s just who I will remain online.
Join me next time, and I’ll tell you about the boys’ names! 😉 What name would you choose if you could do it all over again? To read more about my Grandma, please click here. PS – When I just tried Strahlen on Google Translate, it came up Radiant. Well, I’m not sure which program figured it was Smiling, but for now, I’m accepting them both:
Have a beautiful, blessed, radiant day!