Recently I came across a conversation on Facebook between two women I met in college whom I’ve always admired and found inspiring. One of them had recently made a life-changing career move, and they were discussing how important it is to be a badass in every season of life. I chuckled when I read it, but I knew what they meant. I began to think of my grandma who had recently fallen, broken her hip, and suffered several mini strokes and a heart attack. I thought about her life and how badass she was in every season. I hope you don’t think it vulgar or flippant of me to call my grandma a Badass. Let me explain:
Grandma McLeese was not the kind of grandma who would bake cookies when we came over or give us warm, fuzzy hugs (very often). She was a Registered Nurse, and a woman who made things happen.
My Grandma was a Woman of Action.
She was born in 1929, and the stock market crashed later that year. She grew up in the Great Depression on a farm in central Illinois near Towanda with her parents and siblings. This must’ve been a difficult time of scrimping, saving, and making do. I think this must be why my grandma never liked to waste anything or throw things away. Everyone always made fun of her on holidays for washing plastic silverware and reusing it!
My Grandma also came of age during World War II. This was a time when women were working outside the home to help with the war effort while so many men served. As difficult as that time must’ve been, it was a time of opportunity and economic growth for women. My grandma was 16 when the war ended, and I wonder if her experiences with it inspired her to a career in nursing. I wonder who she knew who served in the war and what her life was like living in the middle of Illinois when so much was happening in the world.
I’ve heard stories about how when my grandma was in nursing school, she and her friends would hang out and have drinks together at the Caboose. I think that’s where she met my grandpa. I’ve often thought I would’ve liked to have had a drink with her there.
I learned in recent years, that on my grandma & grandpa’s wedding day, October 28, 1950, they came home after their marriage ceremony and a celebratory luncheon to find a letter waiting for my Grandpa, drafting him to the Korean War. I can only imagine what they must’ve felt at that moment. My grandpa went off and served in the Korean War, and my grandma continued living her life, having their first born, son, my uncle Bobby, the following August.
My grandparents had eight children, and a story I remember being told growing up was how my grandma handled diapers.
This was in the 1950’s, and cloth diapers were, of course, the only option. At one point, my Grandma would have had at least 3 in diapers—maybe 4: my aunts Linda, Mary, Paula & my mom, Tricia. So in the thick of this diapering season of her life, this is what she would do. She washed the diapers using her ringer washer, which I’m sure was a lifesaver at the time. She then hung diapers up to dry (as dryers were not yet affordable). Sometimes, she needed diapers faster than they would dry. So she clothes-pinned the cloth diapers to the antenna of their car, and had my grandpa drive around the block until the diapers were at last dry!
As a kid, I thought this was must’ve been disgusting and so embarrassing! Now, as an adult and mom of 4, I realize that without a doubt, my grandma was ingenious! And seriously badass.
As a nurse, my grandma worked the night shift, which allowed her to come home, get her 6 kids off to school, and take care of her two younger sons during the day, when she also somehow found time to sleep! I do not understand how she survived this season of her life!
My grandma had a long career in nursing, but by the time I was born in the late 70’s, she was the school nurse at Bloomington High School where she worked until she retired in 2005. I went to college in Bloomington and would occasionally meet people who went to BHS. So when you meet someone and realize you have a connection to their life, you share it, right?! I quickly learned that my comments of “Oh, my grandma is the school nurse of Bloomington High School!” would not be met with the same enthusiasm I felt because my grandma was the Feared and Revered School Nurse of Bloomington High School. I loved seeing people’s expressions and raised eyebrows as they grappled with how to respond to this woman’s enthusiastic granddaughter!
Even though my grandma’s health and memory have been declining in recent years, she continued to live her life as usual, with her children and grandchildren rallying around to help make it happen. She liked going to 4 o’clock mass on Saturday nights and enjoyed visiting with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. We kept our birthday and holiday traditions alive: bi/tri-monthly birthday parties, Tom & Jerry’s on Christmas morning, the annual May Talent Show & Campout, and red & white checked 4th of Julys. She loved chocolate and appreciated a good meal. She was a woman who knew how to be present and in the moment. When she spoke to me, I never felt her thoughts were elsewhere. She didn’t dwell in negativity and found solutions to problems. She was always moving forward. A Woman of Action. A Badass in every season.
I love you Grandma! Thank you for all you sacrificed for us and for being such an amazing role model! McLeese Family, let’s keep moving forward. Take risks, stay true, keep your promises, find solutions, revel in your joys, mourn your losses, and take care and love those closest to you. Be a Badass in every season!