“Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns!
Blue flower, red thorns!
Oh, this would be so much easier if I wasn’t color-blind!”
“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics,
conviviality, and so on — have found that none of these
finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains?
Walt Whitman, 1819-1892
Viola, commonly called a Violet
“Every [woman] is a quotation from all [her] ancestors.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882
I never knew my maternal grandmother because she died from uterine cancer when my own mother was a teenager. Her name was Viola and I often think of her when I look at the violets blooming each spring. I sometimes wonder — am I like her in any way? Do I have her eyes? Her freckles? Her talents or her personality? I already know that my paternal grandparents, who lived with us as I grew up, get credit (perhaps a little bit of blame occasionally) for so much of who I am. But what about Viola?
I know she was a good seamstress, making all of my mom and aunts’ clothes. O.k., so I didn’t get that from her. Despite my mom’s best attempts, I still don’t know how to sew on a button. I know Viola (what would I have called her? Granny? Grandma? Grandmother?) was a good cook…(well, all except the green jello salad my mom and aunt still insist on making for family holidays). And so I probably didn’t get that from her either.
She must have been an independent and determined woman, and so perhaps I can thank her for that! She lost the use of her left arm to spinal meningitis as a young child but my mom said it never slowed her down one bit and she was always active, involved, and dedicated to her family. She didn’t wait around for others to do things for her — she figured them out and did them on her own.
She grew up and lived all her life in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. And so through her, I am an Appalachian. In the 1930s, she attended Milligan College in Northeast Tennessee. My aunts later followed in her footsteps at Milligan, and so when it was time for me to select a college, Milligan was my natural choice. It felt like home. It still feels like home, as it has become my daily mission and passion for the past 14 years.
I never knew Viola, but I know the three daughters she raised. And so I seem to know her. She raised strong, beautiful, creative, intelligent, caring, and independent daughters. Each has played a very special role in my life — my dear mother, my Aunt Pat, and my Aunt Roberta/”Toby” (who passed away 15 years ago) — and through them I glimpse what she must have been like, for she helped create and mold them. And I think I have some characteristics of each of them, and so therefore I must be like her, too. I like that.
Grandmother Viola, thank you for your part in who I am.