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Just dropping by ... A true success story

Yevet Tenney Published on 23 May 2014

Mother’s Day was a few weeks ago, and we bought flowers, cards and trinkets to honor our mothers, but I wish I could once more honor my grandmothers, who gave so much. They were the pioneers who, quietly behind the scenes, sacrificed to make the life of ease we know today.

My grandmother, Mildred Despain, was such a woman.When Mildred stepped across the threshold of her new home after she was married, I don’t suppose she ever imagined she would have 10 children – and those children would give her 148 grandchildren and 55 great-grandchildren.

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I don’t suppose it occurred to her she would have 48 young men and women from her posterity serving Christian missions in New Zealand, England, Taiwan, South Africa, South America, Italy and a myriad of states in the U.S. She didn’t realize that from her children would come mechanics, laborers, teachers, computer programmers, artists, actors, medical technicians and policemen.

When she tied on her apron to fix her first humble meal for Claude, she never dreamed that one day she wouldn’t wear an apron anymore. She would wear cotton blends, polyesters, silk and denim.

As she bumped across the prairie many days and nights in a covered wagon, she never fathomed that she would be able to travel to any place in Arizona in a day’s travel time. She wouldn’t even have to take off her shoes. Who would have thought her summer and winter travel would be in a plush car with air conditioning.

When Mildred and Claude looked at the moon, it was still a mystical golden globe in the sky inhabited by the man in the moon. How could she have known that in their lifetime man would walk on the moon and people would travel around the world faster than a man could hitch a wagon.

The telephone was a new invention she didn’t see until many years after she was married. Tape recorders, video machines and computers were not even a thought in the inventors’ minds. E-mail and Internet was the stuff of science fiction.

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When Mildred did her laundry in the back yard by carrying water from the old cow tank behind the house, she put ashes in the buckets to clear the water and settle the mud on the bottom of the washtub. She never imagined that one day she would turn on a faucet in her kitchen and pure, clear hot and cold water would pour into her sink.

When she washed the clothes on the scrub board for her children, rubbing her knuckles into calluses, she never dreamed that one day automatic washers would be invented. As she slaved over the hot iron stove to make sure the shirts, dresses and even the sheets were pressed smooth, she never dreamed that irons would be replaced with permanent press fabric.

Mildred lived almost a century. It’s amazing the changes she has seen. But more importantly, the world has seen an amazing lady. Mildred was nearly blind for most of her life. Yet she could quilt, embroider, crochet and cook better than most women.

Her daughters brag about how she would make their clothes. Her daughters would look at the Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalog and choose a dress they liked. They would show it to her. She would lean close and squint over the picture until she could see the image of what the dress looked like.

Then she would make it almost perfectly. For Christmas, May, her third-to-youngest daughter, recalls that Mildred made her a rag doll with the same color and style of dress she made for May.

Her sons brag that she could walk into a kitchen that seemed devoid of food and cook a meal that would charm royalty. Mildred used a wood cookstove almost all her life. That meant she had to start the fire, keep it burning and make sure the temperature was right for cooking.

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It was nice in the winter but not so nice in the summer. Lynn, her son, said, “I don’t know how she would do it. When we went out to work with the cows sometimes, we’d come in at noon and she would have a hot meal ready for us. Sometimes, we would come in at three o’clock. She would still have a hot meal ready for us. It was amazing how she knew.”

Mildred knew the footsteps of each of her children. You could not sneak past her room in the middle of the night without her speaking to you. She would call you by name and she would be right every time.

She had an uncanny memory about her children. Charlotte and Deanna recalled that she would always fix their favorite dishes when the kids would come home. Deanna’s favorite was creamed peas and potatoes. Charlotte and many of the other children loved milk noodles. Mildred loved her children and lived to serve them.

Mildred continued to take care of the family and time passed quickly. In 1978, Claude passed away, leaving her a widow. Many said they didn’t think she would last very long. But she was a surprise to everyone. She rallied from that and many other hard times.

She had a determined, tenacious spirit. Charlotte recalled that one of the illnesses she had was so bad that the family was called in because the doctor said she had a 25 percent chance of living. Charlotte went to stay with her shortly after that. She said “Charlotte, I’m not going to die. I’m going to lick this thing. I’m going to the cattle shipping in the fall.”

She would get out of bed and hobble to the bathroom and the kitchen. Tears would stream down her cheeks because of the pain, but she did it anyway. She grew stronger and stronger. She did go to the shipping, and she even made the biscuits for the cowboys.

Mildred was an active woman and found it hard sitting around. When she couldn’t get around to cook and couldn’t see to quilt any more, she started making braids for rugs. She would sit by the hours and make long braids.

As long as May, her daughter, would have some fabric sewn together in strips, she would braid. She made closets full of braids. Hundreds of rugs were made from those braids. It would have been easier for her to sit and demand the world serve her, but not Mildred; she wanted to make a contribution every day of her life.

David recalled that Mildred had an exacting memory. When she was staying with her daughter during an illness, David said, “I’ll be back to see you in a couple of weeks.” He didn’t get back for almost three weeks. When he came to see her, she said, “David, you said you were coming back in a couple of weeks. It’s been two weeks and four days.” He said, “I learned to say, ‘I’ll be back when I get back in town.’”

Mildred’s last hours were beautiful and filled with family. She waited to say goodbye to the children and grandchildren she loved so well. Everyone gathered around her bed and said their goodbyes, but she wasn’t ready to go. Finally, just before she passed away, Smiley and AJ, two little grandsons who had lived with her, came in the room.

Their mother explained that Grandma could hear them even if she looked like she was asleep. They both said “We love you, grandma.” Then Tracy asked them if they wanted to kiss Grandma. Smiley kissed her hand and a sweet smile spread over his face. You could tell how much he loved his grandma. He was a reflection of all her family. She loved us all and that love was mirrored back to her.

My grandmother’s life was not about what she could get out of life; it was about what she could give. She never had a career or stood in the winner’s circle competing with the CEOs of the world. She never received the Mother of the Year award or even got a plaque of appreciation to hang on her wall.

Her success is written in the hearts of her children for generations to come. Her courage is passed down from generation to generation, and her stamina in adversity is written in hundreds of hearts. She was truly a monument of success, and I am honored to be her granddaughter. PD

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