Her life in rural West Virginia was always a struggle against poverty. Whether it was growing up in Appalachia as America headed into World War I or raising a family through the Great Depression and World War II or living on her own in her golden years on a fix income in Tunnelton, she was the heart of her family. Over the decades she endured her loss of loved ones including all her siblings, her husband and five of her own children and several grandchildren.
Born in Cranesville, WV, the daughter of Ulysses S. Jefferys and Emma M. Ringer Jefferys, she married my grandfather Edward Johnson and settled in the Newburg area. She had 10 children (four sons and six daughters) while she was married to my late grandfather for 45 years.
I am one of 26 grandchildren and my daughters Tess and Emma make up at least 45 great-grandchildren we can count at this point (and there are at least a dozen great-great-grandchildren).
My daughter Tess has been busy lately writing down her thoughts about her great-grandmother and what she can remember about her. I thought it appropriate for me as well and what better place to reflect than in my weblog. I know it's a bit off topic when it comes to broadcasting and my professional domain, but my grandmother was alive for the birth of broadcasting and the invention of television, etc.
When talking to Tess about why I was not saddened by my grandmother’s death I explained I felt we should celebrate her incredible journey of 99 years. I know it’s hard for eight-year old Tess to understand this, but I suggested we think about Grandma Johnson as a time traveler.
Each time we hear a historic reference to the 20th Century we know Grandma Johnson was there for it. She was born in 1906 the year of the San Francisco earthquake which American author Jack London reported on as a journalist for Collier's Weekly as an eye-witness to the disaster.
My grandmother was born when Teddy Roosevelt held the White House—and she lived to see 13 additional presidents elected.
When she was a little girl, November 11 was called Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I. Later in it became Veterans Day. She sent sons to war against the Nazis and she saw communism rise and fall in Europe.
While the telephone, electricity and indoor plumbing were innovations when she was a child, she would not benefit from such amenities for decades—indoor plumbing came to her distant farm house in the 1970s after my grandfather’s death. It’s incredible to think of all the scientific discoveries and breakthroughs that occurred during the course of her life—from the polio vaccine to the atomic bomb to the lunar landings and the Internet. Her life span came during extraordinary times. When reflecting on her life I think about how the world has changed--contemplating 20th Century history now means thinking about my grandmother and her journey as a witness and participant on that timeline.