Grandma always said she was going to die with her boots on, a phrase that hails from America’s Old West days. She wasn’t famous or a pioneer, and her boots were probably plain old galoshes, but she had that tough, gritty, no-nonsense attitude that a pioneer needed to survive. From Topeka, Kansas, she married in 1909 and gave birth to four children in quick succession, born in 1911, 1913, 1915 and 1918. In 1919, her husband, my grandfather, abruptly died from a brain hemorrhage.
To be widowed with four very young children in a time when women were not well received in the workplace and movements for women’s rights were only beginning, Grandma needed to make a decision quickly. Offers of help came from her in-laws. But her father-in-law was the sort of strict, dour Ulster Scot Presbyterian who never allowed any sort of “unseemly demeanor”—such as laughter, cheerfulness, or any kind of mischief—on a Sunday. Children and adults alike were required to sit still, hands folded, and contemplate what they had heard in church that morning. For that matter, the rest of the week was not treated with much difference. In addition, he had a habit of needing a bit too much gratitude for any wee bit of help given.
To my mom, the third of the four children, Grandma was a hero and someone of whom to be very proud, and offering pride was something Mom never took lightly. Grandma refused her in-laws’ help, probably to their disdain, because she absolutely did not want to be beholden to them. With quiet determination, she went to work, doing various kinds of office duties. She sold the big house the family had lived in and bought a smaller one that was easier to handle financially and physically. And she raised those four kids all by herself. She never remarried, remained independent after they were all grown, and retired in the 1950s, living alone in her own home with quiet dignity until shortly before she passed away at the age of 93. She spent only the few final days of her life in a nursing home. She was determined to die with those proverbial boots still on, and she damn near did.
Writer and historian Kathleen Guler is the author of the award-winning Macsen’s Treasure series of four novels set in fifth-century Britain. The fourth, A Land Beyond Ravens, won the 2010 Colorado Book Award for Historical Fiction. Drawing from her Welsh and Scottish heritage and a long background in history and literature, the author has also published numerous articles, essays, reviews and poems, is a member of the Historical Novel Society, holds a Masters Degree in history (with honors) from American Military University, and participates in various writing and academic groups focused on history. She is currently working on a new novel that involves Celtic raiders and nomadic Scythians in the fourth century BC. Her books can be found worldwide through Amazon and Smashwords.