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Julia Vesta T—, my sainted great-grandmother, was a woman I could always admire, even if no one else would. She may have gotten bitter toward the end, but she was always so wonderfully loving and doting and kind to me.

When she was young, she was extremely independent, always making her own decisions and doing things for herself when she could, but always put her family first. One day she realized that she needn’t do that; the third of 12 children raising the younger ones as they came into the world when that was her mother’s job? She had her own life to live. I respect her for asserting her right to her own life, even if she was only fourteen; she was far older in her heart by that time.

Along came my great-grandfather, Ralph (Tobe) T—, and she was smitten. Not long after, she was in love, and shortly followed his proposal of marriage. Of course, great-great-grandma Hazel would be having none of that nonsense, Julia was far too young, and at the age of fifteen, the younger version of my great-grandmother was pregnant. She told her mother, “I’m those children’s sister, not mother. That’s your job, not mine. And if I’m raising kids, they might as well be my own.”

This mortified Hazel, and soon Julia and Ralph were married. I even have their wedding picture. Grandma is on the hood of my grandpa’s truck in a lovely summer dress that she said was cornflower blue. I told her it matched her eyes and she smiled at me like she always did when someone gave her a compliment she was too polite to decline.

My grandmother was a beautiful woman; long, thick, curly black hair, light blue eyes, roses and cream skin, petite. Her beauty didn’t fade with time either. She was one of those women who sat out on her porch, arms crossed, smoking a long cigarette, looking over her garden, waiting for a neighbor to drop by. As she got older, she just looked a bit more frail, her hair a silver color, and she had to get glasses.

Soon she had her first child, and my great-grandfather was off to fight in the Pacific in World War II. She showed me his army trunk one day when we were upstairs cleaning. It was filled with postcards from the Philippines and Japan, a Kimono my grandpa bought her in Japan, his uniform, along with various other paraphernalia.

When he got back from the war, the two spent the remainder of their long lives together, had three more children and raised a fifth, though she outlived him by ten years. She missed him, and I could tell, but we kept out pictures of him in order to keep him with her, in a sense. And now they’re together again, wherever they may be, and I refuse to think otherwise.

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