the Strongest Woman I Have Ever Known
By Jessica Sinn
You know the expression, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”? Those words really ring true now that my 95-year-old grandma, Marynelle “Bobbie” Crawford, has passed on to the great beyond.
As I was writing her eulogy, I cursed myself for not taking the time to really get to know the most accomplished woman in my entire family. Sure, I know she served in the U.S. Marine Corps, excelled in school, and grew up during the Great Depression. But sadly, I only know the Cliffs Notes version of her life.
If you think about it, how well do we really know our grandparents other than the fact that they spoiled us rotten with ice cream, toys and hugs when we were kiddos? As a bratty little kid, I only saw grandma as a white-haired sweet old lady who liked to drone on and on about Billy Graham specials and the benefits of milk and prune juice. And when she did talk about her past I would roll my eyes and say, “Oh boy, here we go again.” I was too busy wishing I could be flirting with boys at the mall than sitting in this old lady’s house listening to her talk about the hardships of her youth.
Now that she’s gone, I would give anything – even my precious Ford Taurus – to spend one more day with this woman and learn more about her epic journey – from growing up on a dairy farm to working her way up the Marine Corps totem pole during World War II.
It wasn’t until I began writing her eulogy when the sharp pang of loss hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. A huge flash of regret waved over me when I realized that I was just now learning about this wonderfully brave, complex, strong woman.
You see, unlike the Facebook generation, grandma didn’t like to talk about herself. Although she often reminisced about the Great Depression, She didn’t gloat about her accomplishments – and trust me, there were many! Here’s what I learned as I gathered details about grandma’s life:
Born on May 4, 1917, Marynelle Thompson, grew up on her grandfather’s dairy farm in a small Southern patch of Bryant, Arkansas. She spent most of her childhood in Little Rock, where she graduated from Central High School with honors.
After high school she received secretarial training and worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until she and her best girlfriend joined the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve after the start of World War II. She was assigned an office staff position at Marine Corps Headquarters in Quantico, Va.
Among her many important duties, she provided clerical support for the Manhattan Project. Proud to serve her country, she quickly worked her way up through the ranks and was promoted to corporal, not an easy task for a woman Marine back in the World War II era.
In her later years, she was fond of saying she had the equivalent of a college degree in military records. During her enlistment, she fell in love with Sgt. Donald Hughes Crawford, the boss of her best girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, they married in a quiet ceremony in 1944. Resplendent in their Marine Corps uniforms, their wedding was intimate and understated. But even if she had all the money in the world, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
After grandpa swept her off her feet, the rest was history. They made a home in sunny Carlsbad, California where they lived a quiet happy life by the beach. Although grandpa struck it big in the stock market, they lived very frugally and never took even the simplest creature comfort – milk especially – for granted. As a kid, I always groused over their penny-pinching ways. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t indulge in fancy cars and designer clothes. Boy did I have a lot to learn.
Although it pained her to spend money on “frivolous” things like clothes and household appliances, she put my sister and I through college – no questions asked. She made provisions for our future and gave us a place to call home after our mother split. In addition to the much-needed financial assistance, she gave us the confidence we needed to chase our dreams. Considering our shaky upbringing, I shudder to think where we would be today without grandma’s love and support.
She had a way of making anyone feel special. She never let a conversation go by without telling me how proud she was of me. She may have sounded like a broken record, but my heart warmed over whenever I heard those words. Growing up, my mother always laughed at my future plans and told me “you can’t,” but grandma always made me believe the opposite. With her encouragement and eternal optimism, I knew I had it in me to finish college and write for a living.
So as I sit here stewing about the things I could’ve, should’ve done while she was alive, I realize the best way to get through my grief is to honor her legacy. No matter what hardships come my way, I need to invoke my inner Marynelle Crawford and pick myself up by my bootstraps whenever the going gets tough. Even in her darkest days, she would somehow find a happy place. Let’s face it, nursing home life is grim. But she found a way to enjoy it by occupying her free time with long walks around the rest home. Rather than zoning out in front of the TV, she’d strap on her walking shoes and go to town on that walker. The staff was so impressed by her walking routine, they monitored her steps with a pedometer and found that she clocked one to three thousand steps per day!
As you can see, those are some big shoes to fill, but I am determined to make her proud. Rather than focusing on material things, negative thinking, and trivial drama, I need to remember the lessons grandma taught me: Be strong no matter what life throws your way; Believe in yourself in defiance of naysayers; And above all else, be kind.
Thank you grandma for all the gifts you have given me. It’s hard accepting the fact that you’re gone, but I know you’re in a better place. Semper Fi!