Happy 122nd birthday, Ethel May!

One hundred and twenty two years ago, a baby girl was born near Two Harbors, Minnesota, to Thomas Ira Carter and Hannah Jane Croft. Ethel May was their second child and second daughter, and she was my dear grandmother. The mother of my mother.

She would absolutely hate this post. She was never one to allow people to make a fuss about her. She didn’t like being the center of attention. She despised her name, and chose for the world to call her May. In fact, most people didn’t know her first name wasn’t May.

Grandma is actually not the inspiration for this blog. Quite the opposite. My grandmother was not the kind of grandmother who had her grandchildren gather around while she reminisced about the good old days. The truth? Grandma never told us any stories whatsoever.

I was her oldest granddaughter and second grandchild. My mother and aunt were the best of friends. Aunt Mary Jane and Mom weren’t as hesitant to share stories of their pasts. My cousins were as close to my heart as my siblings, and any stories I tell of my childhood will undoubtedly include them. I promise to make sure I tell my daughters all about our childhood escapades. Just maybe the rest of the world too.

I was also the oldest grandchild on my father’s side. My paternal grandparents were natural born storytellers. I loved hearing stories and never tired of them, even if I had heard them a time or two before. I never made any comparisons between my grandparents, because I loved them all. About 2 years ago, the genealogy bug bit me. At the age of 55 and 25 years after her death, I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Ethel May Carter Creech.

When I had that light bulb moment, I called Mom to ask her why Grandma didn’t tell us anything about her childhood. Mom had no idea, but did propose her theory, based on a personality trait: Grandma lived in the present and didn’t think anyone was interested in her past. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

I decided to shelve everything I knew about the grandmother I loved, and used my researching skills to find out more about the girl and woman I didn’t know. I found newspaper articles about her in her home town. I found out that she had appendicitis and had to go to Duluth to have her appendix removed. I read about her graduation day from teaching college. I learned of the day when she landed a teaching position in her hometown. I also discovered through the 1900 Federal census that she lived with her maternal grandparents as a small child. Heck, until I started researching her past, I didn’t even know her grandfather’s name! She never spoke one word about Smith Croft. Not one.

She hardly ever mentioned the one person I never met and wanted most in the world to know, and that was my grandfather and her husband, Elisha Leroy Creech. My grandfather is a man I know only in spirit; he died in 1948 when my mother was 10 years old. Friends and family called him Lish. As of today, only two people are left on this planet who remember him. My mother possesses early memories of her papa, and her cousin, Gladys, at least has several. Gladys Creech Marx has been the one person who has been able tell me anything about her Uncle Lish. I hang on to her every word. And this just isn’t right.

If I had one more day with her–preferably today–I’d wish her a happy birthday, I’d hug her and give her a smooch on her cheek, hand her a cup of coffee and demand she tell me all the stuff I really want to know. She’d mumble and eventually acquiesce. I’d let her know I wish I could have a do-over to ask more personal questions. I’d let her know her family was important to me. And when our time was up, I’d say “I wish you were here now”.

Photo credit: Duluth, MN. Ginger Juel.

Author: Betsey K.

Mother of two daughters, two Siamese cats and a 3 legged dog. Genealogy hack. Research nut. Search engine proficient. Daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece and ex-wife. And a person who strives for balance and peace.

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