I’ve been meaning to write this post for several years now but it always seemed to get pushed out of the way for something else. Now, I am writing about her because I am feeling my own mortality more. I mean, it is not the case that I am having dark premonitions, rather it is a sense that if I don’t write about her, she may well be lost to the ages, seeing as there are not too many left around who remember and of that number fewer even still whose writing habits extend beyond writing out a grocery list. So, allow me to spend a few lines praising my grandmother, Eva Doris Bower McAtee.
Grandma McAtee was born in 1905 coming into the world as the daughter of David Ezra Bower and Barbara Margaret Bower (born Chamberlain). She was the youngest of seven children being born when her Mother was 40 and her Father was 47. I know absolutely nothing of her childhood. When one is a grandchild one fails to ask those kind of questions and so her past is largely lost to me. I know she grew up in a hard scrabble life as was characteristic of much of rural America at that time. Her mother died when she was 23 and being the youngest she was left at home to take care of her Father who died when she was 31 and likely still at home. I say likely because this period of her life is kind of fuzzy. Her Father dies in 1936, she gets married the same year and she gives birth the same year to her only child, my Father.
So, 1936 was a bellwether year for Eva. No doubt still mourning over the death of her Father, Eva names her son David, introducing him into a home with several half-siblings. You see, Eva married Carl Bernard McAtee who was married to my Grandmother’s best childhood friend, Bertha Collins McAtee. Bertha had died giving birth in 1932 and in God’s providence, of which I know few details, eventually Eva, shortly after her Father’s death, married Carl McAtee and became an instant Mother to a rather large family that very soon included her own son.
I wish I could say that the marriage was a happy marriage but as is often the case with Step-Mothers and blended families combined with Carl McAtee’s reputed fondness for liquor Eva did not have a happy marriage to Carl. Of course, soon enough, the country is sunk in the throes of depression and one can only imagine the struggles of a woman trying to protect her own son from the dynamics of half-siblings that may have reason to resent him and her. There were all kinds of stories that I will spare you dear reader about those family dynamics but I will pass them by except to say that by all accounts they were not good years.
Maybe all of this is why I remember Grandma as being a resilient person. She was able to cope with the vicissitudes of life and did so without me ever remembering her complaining.
Carl Bernard McAtee passed away in 1952 after 16 years of marriage and 47 year old Eva and her 15 year old son (my Father) were left to make it with the help of her widowed Mother-in-law (Lorraine Reid McAtee) who lived directly across the old dirt road that ran between their houses. Grandma-Great was reputed to have smoked a corn cob pipe and lived by observing old superstitions (e.g.; don’t sit in a rocking chair that is moving).
Perhaps Lorraine had a soft spot for Eva, having lost her own husband (Murlin) in 1929 at 52 years of age. I know that David McAtee had a tender spot for his Grandma Lorraine McAtee as witnessed by the rose from her funeral in 1963 that remains pressed in his Bible that was passed down to me.
All of this kneaded grit into Eva. I can remember more than once my Father shouting to his mother (my Grandma), “Damn it Mom, would you quit being so stubborn.” So, my Grandmother was fiercely independent. That reality was demonstrated by the fact that she lived in her small farm-house in Tekonsha, Michigan until appx. 1969 without electricity or running war coming into the house.
When we would go to visit her, I have boyhood memories of the inside pump that would have to be worked to draw the water and then how we would have to heat up the water to do the dishes. One pan of water to wash the dishes in and one pan of water to rinse those same dishes before drying them and putting them away.
Grandma McAtee, being widowed, had to work to keep life and limb together. My vague memory recalls that she retired in the late 60s from an orphanage in Coldwater, Michigan. As I recall she worked in the kitchen as a cook but that memory is hazy.
I remember visiting her frequently. We live approximately 45 minutes away and it seems that many weekends we would go for a visit. She would always have the old archway cookies waiting to be generously distributed. As any rural grandmother from that generation she knew her way around the kitchen and visits to grandma were always characterized by a table full of food. My memory of her is often in this context as she puttered about the kitchen and dining room in her full length apron carrying this or that plate of food. When the food was finally set upon the table there would be a table prayer. A table prayer is so foreign to 2023 American families but in the late 1960s it was still something that was part of the furniture.
Speaking of meals, Eva spent a good deal of her time cooking wild game. Her farm house was surrounded by woods and fields wherein squirrel, rabbit, pheasant and deer were often harvested for the table. I can remember many a meal of squirrel and dumplings, or pheasant or venison cooked with perfection. She prepared them all and was involved a good many times in the pulling the pinions off the pheasant after being dipped in the hot water and paraffin mixture.
After the meal and clean up there was the inevitable family game of aggravation. She always used the white marbles. I miss those family times united around the throw of the dice and the movement of the marbles across the board punctuated by laughter and the sighs and giggle accompanying the progress of the marbles across the board moving home.
Grandma was a big Detroit Tigers baseball fan. I still have memories of listening to the radio with her as the Tigers battled the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1968 World Series. To this day I remember asking her what a RBI was and feeling like I had learned some deep secret that none of my friends would know when she told me.
Like most Grandmothers she never missed a birthday and on my birthday, without fail, she would put in the card she would send me in the mail her widow’s mite. Then when we would see her next I was sure to get a gift of pajamas for my birthday. At least that’s what I recall. I remember thinking at that time that I would never run out of pajamas.
Having lived a hard scrabble life, she was frugal with her money and so there was little excess associated with her spartan life. In 1980 I was hard put to meeting my rent obligation while living off campus during college. When she found out she sent me enough money to pay my rent with wise counsel on how important it was to be careful with my money.
I don’t think I ever heard a harsh word come out of her mouth. Maybe that was from being beat down so hard in her life. Maybe it was because she was just a kind person. Regardless of the reason, I was a child who needed to be around an adult who could only speak kindness and because of that I remember her, now almost 40 years since she passed with fondness.
Later in her life (appx. 1969, I think) at 65ish Grandma remarried to Floyd Persail. It was an adjustment to address her now as Grandma Persails as opposed to Grandma McAtee. Though remarried, I never felt like any of her affection diminished towards her McAtee grandchildren even though she inherited, via marriage, a passel of Persail grandchildren. She showed her humility when her new husband put up a large photograph of his former wife who was deceased in the middle of her tiny living room in the tiny house in Tekonsha. So far as I know she never uttered a word like, “What the blue blazes are you doing putting up the picture of your dearly departed wife so as to find it front and center in our home?”
It’s really kind of humorous because for years I would stare intently at that photo when visiting Grandma and wonder, “Who in the world is this woman who suddenly showed up covering most of the wall in Grandma’s living room?” It was only years later that I would learn that that was Grandpa Floyd’s deceased and honored wife Hazel. I’m now in my 60s and I can’t tell you that I would recommend this as a course of action for second marriages.
Grandma got to meet Jane circa 1981 while we were dating. She told Dad about Jane that, “I better be smart and not lose this girl.” So, you see with that comment she had good people instincts.
In 1982 I moved away from Michigan. Before moving I had been able to help her with a bit of a crisis when Grandpa Floyd landed in a hospital with a clot problem. She needed someone to chauffer her back and forth to the hospital and as I was sitting out college for a semester because I was broke, I was able to aid her in those trips and in sitting with Grandpa Persails in the hospital. During that time, she was as steady and stable as ever. I don’t think I ever recall her being unnerved or worked up about anything. Straight and steady. Neither too high nor to low.
Before I moved away from Michigan to Maine in 1982 I visited with Grandma. By this time she had been diagnosed with a cancer. She was clearly distressed by that news and by the fact that her son had recently moved to Florida. With my Dad’s move to Florida and the news of her illness it is my conviction that she was feeling alone. Dad had always been there as a kind of extra layer of protection since his military duty had been completed in the 50s. I remember our last conversation. She said she had done some things that she didn’t want to recently but she felt like she didn’t have any choice. To this day I have no idea what she was referring to.
I was married to Jane in 1983. She could not come to the wedding due to the advance of the cancer. I know she would have given anything to have been present. A few months later in the winter of 1984 Eva Doris McAtee — my grandmother slipped this mortal coil. I wish I could have been near to visit her during her dying season. Not having her son or grandchildren around her as she fought cancer is still something that haunts me about her dying time.
Another of my regrets was that the Methodist Church she attended with their female “minister” was already far left. I don’t know how much exposure my grandmother had to Biblical Christianity. At this time I was Arminian and so while I could identify the leftism of her local church I wasn’t much good besides that.
As a wife, mother, and grandmother during some very hard times she lived a very courageous life. She was an important person in my life and as such I’d like folks to know a wee bit of her before she, and eventually I, are lost in the sands of time in terms of the memories of the subsequent generations.
These are my 4-6 decade old reminiscences of my grandmother. Others may remember otherwise. Others may and should think it proper to correct where my reminiscences are not accurate. However, this is my attempt to honor my (grand)Mother.