Families logo

Gentle Survivors

The legacy of the toughest woman I never met

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 3 min read

Dear Grandma Maxine,

I wish I could've known you. I wish you would've been here to rock me as a baby, sneak me cookies as a child, or help me mend my grown up broken heart. Your name feels foreign in my mouth, yet the stories of you are closer than my bones.

You were born of pioneers. The Huddlestons helped settle West Virginia with farming and commerce and the occasional early morning hunting trip with their lodger, Daniel Boone. Your mother, my great-grandmother, walked her holler barefoot, feet firmly planted on rocky ground, till she was nearly 100. When I touched the Kanawha River for the first time a few years back, and saw the rolling green hills and lightning bugs, I felt you there too.

You raised my dad and his five brothers in a mining company home. When I visited the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, I stood in the middle of the kitchen and could almost touch both walls with my outstretched arms. I asked the docent if there were any bigger houses, and she replied, "Not unless you were the boss." How did you do it? Send your husband underground every day and keep six boys fed and safe? Even after you moved to Detroit, or rather were moved there after Grandpa Woody survived a mine cave-in and came home to start packing the car, my Dad remembers no lack.

He does remember the night you told your husband, a deeply haunted alcoholic, that you'd fallen in love with someone else and were leaving. My dad, the oldest of the six, watched him chase you out of the house with a shotgun. A few weeks later, you collected your boys, and went to live on a farm with them and your soon-to-be new husband. You tried again at love, amidst a hail of scrutiny and stigma. Though it saved your life and possibly the lives of your boys, it can't have been easy.

With all the stories I've heard, what I marvel at the most is how my dad and uncles turned out. Granted, they all suffered with their addictions to various things in various degrees. Some part of each of them remained locked in an underground struggle, though they never had to work in the physical mines. But through all of that, they stayed gentle. Each and every one of them is or was loving, kind, humorous, with a wide open heart. Your son Doug, my Dad, turns 78 on Saturday. Though his health is poor now and he is ringed in a crusty coating of old man grump, he would still do anything for anyone he loved. There is a vast and surprising amount of softness in him, for someone whose life has been so hard.

I want to say I've known so many other survivors who were not so "lucky." But I don't really believe it's luck. To live through hell and not close down your heart is an exercise in fierce and skillful love. From all accounts, much of that came from you, Grandma Maxine. You showed your boys how to pioneer through challenges and still be sensitive and alive to love and beauty. When love was missing or fractured in their lives, you actively sought to fill those gaps. And guess what? They passed it to their children. You did it! Not all of them had children of course, but the ones who did further redeemed the past and raised heart centered children, ones who bend but don't break.

When I want to hide my heart away, when the storms seem "too much," I think of you. I remind myself that another chance, another adventure, might be right around the corner. I remind myself that lack is an illusion and I'm not trapped. I remind myself of the West Virginia state motto: "Mountaineers are always free." Thank you for being the touchstone to my wise and powerful female line, and for being with me, even after death.


About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.