My grandmother, Alice, passed away a year ago today.
Alice was born to immigrant parents in the Bronx in 1922. Her father wandered off shortly after she was born and her mother was not able to care for her alone. Alice was placed in a foster home and there found loving parents and two sisters. She stayed with her foster parents until she married, and they finally adopted her when she turned 21. Alice's natural mother had refused permission for the adoption for 20 years because her foster parents were Catholic and her natural parents were Jewish.
Alice enrolled in nursing school because she couldn't type. (Her only other choice was secretarial school.) She graduated and married a man who she soon discovered she did not care for very much. To get away from her husband, she volunteered to join the Army and was shipped out to Italy. This was during World War II. Alice was a veteran.
She worked in an army hospital in Italy caring for sick and injured soldiers. One night in the officers club she met a tall and handsome 2nd Lieutenant. He asked her to go dancing the next night. When her 6'2" date arrived to pick her up, he looked down at 5'0" Alice and said "I thought you were taller." Apparently he decided it didn't matter as that date was the beginning of a great romance and that soldier was my grandfather, Martin. Martin was a veterinarian who joined the Army because it was the only way he could receive his veterinary degree - his university would not issue diplomas to anyone who did not enlist. Martin was also married to a woman he no longer cared for. Alice and Martin were together in Italy for 2 years.
When the war ended, Alice went to Reno and got a divorce. Martin's first wife had already done the same. Martin was still in Italy, working on some administrative jobs for the Army. During this time, he contracted tuberculosis. He was hospitalized and treated, but did not improve. His doctors told him that he would not survive and that he would probably never leave Italy. Alice went back to Italy to see him, and Martin convinced the hospital commander to let him out of the hospital for one night. For years, Martin and Alice told the world that they were married that night, but they weren't. Alice returned to New York without a husband.
However, Alice returned to New York with a baby. Martin's health improved slightly and he was transferred to an Army hospital in New York, but he was still not expected to survive more than a few weeks. After he was moved, Alice discovered that she was pregnant. This was the 50s, she was single, and her family was scandalized. Her sisters tried to convince her to have an abortion. Yes, it was illegal, but she was a nurse in New York City and could have had it done. Alice refused. She knew Martin was going to die and that she would be alone and poor with a ruined reputation, but she loved Martin and would not give up his child. Martin and Alice were married in the Army hospital and Alice prepared herself to be widowed.
Martin's condition stabilized and then gradually improved. He was still in the hospital on the day 6 months after his wedding that Alice gave birth to a baby girl, my mother. Martin spend another 6 months in the hospital and was finally well enough to be released, although he would never fully recover from his illness. Martin was from one of those flat and empty states out on the Great Plains and wanted to return. He got a job in a veterinary practice not too far from his hometown and moved his young family to a very small town to start a new life. The people of that small town weren't quite sure what to make of Alice, with her Jewish features and Bronx accent. Once they heard that Alice and Martin had met in Italy during the war it all made sense to them. Alice, they decided, was Italian.
Martin and Alice spent 15 years in that small town on the Plains. They had another daughter a few years after their first and built friendships that would last the rest of their lives. Alice was happy to stay home with the girls and look after the house, after her own fashion anyway. Alice believed in good friends and good times and owning lots of jewelry and that ironing and housekeeping only took you away from the better things in life. As she liked to say, she was an "easy keeper."
Martin eventually got a new job in California and moved the family out to the coast. Alice took a job in general nursing, and then spent time as a baby nurse and a sex therapist before moving into geriatric nursing. They moved around a lot for several years, but finally settled in a town in Northern California and spent 30 years there. They raised their girls and were thrilled by their 4 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Alice kept her job as a geriatric nurse until she was 76 and many of her patients were younger than she was. Throughout their marriage, Alice and Martin enjoyed good and life-long friends and always loved to travel. They went all over the world. Shortly before their 50th anniversary they returned to the town in Italy where they had met and fallen in love.
Alice passed away on May 11, 2003 following a brief illness.