Reminiscences of the Past

Thelma Martha (Tompkins) Person

As I prepared for Christmas again in December 2021, my thoughts went to past years and people. Thelma, my maternal grandmother–aka Nanny to me, passed shortly after I turned eleven years. My whole life, in a few short years, turned completely upside down.

My mother, long divorced from my father, remarried around 1959 or thereabouts. My stepfather was not a very pleasant man. A retired Army Reserve captain, he insisted on being given due respect and put me on KP if I did not order my dolls suitably. He also signed cards “Father Sir.” Not exactly warm and fuzzy by any means. He was also verbally abusive to my mother and selfish as well. I recall one time when I was visiting my mother’s home (which she had proudly purchased when she was financially able after her divorce from my father), and I wanted some chocolate milk. My stepfather, already drinking some, said there was no more real milk and he had used the instant powdered milk for his. So, I had to use that, and it didn’t taste good at all. I later discovered he had lied and had used the last of the “good” milk for his own chocolate milk.

At the time, I lived with my grandparents on a farm, way on top of a hill, in the country. When my parents divorced, Mom had to work so I lived with Nanny and Pop-Pop. My mother’s house was a few miles away on another road so I still got to see her on weekends when she wasn’t working. I loved living in the country, playing in the apple trees, being pushed on the swing Poppy put in the big old tree behind the house, playing with the chickens, and riding the bus to the faraway two-room, four grade school with the his and hers facilities located outside behind the building. I had friends that I could visit, play with, and see at church. One friend at school had a hard life. She was very poor and not very clean, but she and I liked each other. I remember her offering to share her buttered bread with me one day at lunch; she didn’t have much more than that but still wanted to give me some. Sadly, one winter night, the phone rang with devastating news. My friend had died in a house fire, mere feet from the door. The rumor was that she had gone in to save her only doll. The newspaper account I read not long ago gave a slightly different story. That loss is how I finished out third grade.

At the end of that school year, in another blow in my young life, my grandparents sold that farm, and we moved into Williamsport in East End. That was in the summer of 1960. I went from the wonderful country life on a pretty hill and a two-room school to elbow-to-elbow neighbors (at least in my eyes) and a brick school that was about three stories high with all the modern conveniences and many more kids than I was used to interacting with. So many changes to experience in a short time, with more soon to come.

A little over a year later, in October of 1961, I welcomed a baby brother into my life. After adjusting to a new stepfather, a new school, and a new home, I now had to become the older sister after being the center of attention as an only child. I had new friends and a different life and so many adjustments as a ten year old, but even more were coming.

The marriage didn’t last. My mother was forced by my stepfather to sell the home she had struggled to buy and was so proud of owning. She then had to move back home with her parents, my little brother in tow as well. While it was nice to have the two of them there, it was also very hard. I was not used to Mom being in my life so much and always saw my grandmother in the role of mother. That change did not go well for me.

However, the final blow in that short span of hours was soon to hit me. On August 19, 1962, Nanny was gone. My grandmother, my rock, my comfort, died. I knew she had health issues and often would rub her left arm and take little tiny pills under her tongue, but I was too young to know just how sick she was. Nanny had an under-active thyroid and was a type 2 diabetic, leading to heart issues. When her insulin was regulated, it threw off her thyroid, and vice versa. That evening, the ambulance was called, and the men worked on her. She was taken away to the hospital. I didn’t know then, but she had died at home. On the advice of the doctor, I was not told until the next day.

I don’t think I have ever fully recovered from the changes in that short span in my life. I still long for the time I spent on that country farm on the hill and the freedom and love I felt there. I still grieve.