Meem & Poppop at one of our weddings
I’ve been doing a lot of painting and cleaning while on “Stay at Home” orders these past few weeks. Painting helps me process and there is a lot to process.
My mind has wandered to what my maternal grandparents, Martha and Earl Wyckoff (Meem and Poppop), would have to say about the state of things. Poppop passed in March, 2001 and Meem died on Thanksgiving Day, 2010, just four months before Patrick.
I pulled out the last scrapbook that my Mom made for Meem for inspiration this morning. It is a big book, containing photos and captions from every decade of their lives. Turning to my Mom’s remarks from Meem’s funeral, I was reminded that Meem was born during the peak of the Spanish Flu, on October, 30 1918. Her mother was confined to bed rest at the time. That must have been terrifying for her Mom. This is something I don’t remember Meem talking about.
What I remember her talking about was growing up during the Depression. She was eleven years old when it began. She started dating Earl when she was a teenager. They both lived in Almonesson, NJ, next door to each other. He was 4 1/2 years older than her and had been in the CCCs in Idaho. In November, 1936 they accompanied another couple who were eloping to get married in Elkton, MD. Maryland had a lower age limit to get a marriage license (I think). They were their witnesses. The story goes that the guy said to Earl, “You may as well get married while you are here. When will you have enough gas to get back down here?” So, Martha and Earl were married, but they kept it a secret because they didn’t have enough money to get an apartment of their own.
Once they told her parents that they were married, they lived with her parents. Before very long, my grandmother was pregnant with her first child. But she was very ill at birth and only lived a few days. I have reflected on what that grief must have been like. She was so young and the loss of a child is so much to bear. I know that they bought a family plot in the cemetery nearby to bury the baby. She never had a grave marker until my grandmother bought the marker for Poppop after he died. Money was always an underlying concern and they never wasted anything. This rubs off and I am grateful for all they taught my parents and me.
During the Depression, Meem was a hairdresser, so never out of work. There’s an irony to what’s happening today. Poppop worked for RCA as a prototype builder. He was proud to have had a part in building the prototype of the lunar rover. Poppop had an amazing gift for seeing how things fit together. He did this work despite having no formal education as an engineer.
Both of them had an amazing talent to see the potential in things. He could fix anything, we always said, “Don’t throw that away, Poppop can fix it.” She could make anything out of fabric and glue. She loved Elmer’s Glue! In their retirement they started an antique business, MarlWyck Antiques. They focused on refinishing old trunks. Poppop would strip off the old leather, fashion new metal corners, hinges, etc. Meanwhile Meem would recover the trays inside the trunks with beautiful cotton fabric. Their pieces were amazing works of art.
So, with their history of being young adults during the Depression, I wonder what they’s say about the state of things today. My guess is that Meem’s counsel would be to keep using what we have. I have frozen soups, a turkey that I didn’t cook last year for Christmas, and lots of other things that I can cobble together into meals. She would also advise that it’s about time I cleaned the basement! After Patrick died down there, I just couldn’t face the space for a long time. Then Richy moved in and stayed for the better part of seven years. Lots of stuff to clean and throw out there. I know she’d say keep trying to be kind to each other. She always said never go to bed angry.
Poppop was not a man of many words. He would say, “It’ll be ok Dolly.” And then he would give me one of his most amazingly tight hugs. And it would feel like it’s going to be ok.
May we all use the lessons learned from our elders. May we find the lessons in this time. And I think it’ll be ok.
Stay well friends.