Sunday, May 8, 2016

Grouchy Grandmas: Happy Mother's Day, Anyway

Mary Catherine Gervin Smith about 1900.
I've never written or spoken much about my grandparents because, frankly, I know little of them. I met my mother's mom once or twice and didn't like her. She was gruff, angry and bitter and she didn't seem to like me, as I recall.

Mom told me stories--none very pretty--about growing up in rural poverty in Avery County, N.C., with a mother who was strict, Biblical and unbending. Mom's older sister, Mabel,  was rebellious and left home early. I always thought of Mabel as a free soul. Others referred to her differently.

My grandmother, Cora Barwick Buchanan McCourry, was the queen of the family, a stern and generally humorless matriarch. I have no idea where Mom's wonderfully dark sense of humor came from. Probably not Cora, though.

My father's mother, Mary Catherine Gervin Smith, was also a stern, humorless woman of Irish extract hell-bent on maintaining the family's  status in Johnson City, Tenn. Mary Catherine, a redhead with--I'm guessing here--green eyes (hence mine), married an ambitious, uneducated, hard-working man who rose to found his own construction company and earn impressive amounts of money during his lifetime. He built a goodly portion of Johnson City, I am told. George Washington Smith died on the way to church in 1940, not yet 50 years old. I know little more about him, other than he liked my mother a lot. Something Mary Catherine decidedly did not.

Mom (Opal Dane McCourry Smith) told me that her mother-in-law was always dismissive of her because she was poor. She was never good enough for her mother-in-law's blond-haired, college-educated, athletic, intelligent golden boy, George Edwards Smith. Mom was quite beautiful, which I'm sure gave Mary Catherine fits and which I know Dad celebrated. They were married in 1934, shortly after Dad graduated from Virginia Tech.

In any case, I will take what little I know of Mary Catherine and Cora and wish them a happy Mother's Day. My guess is they could use it.

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