Celebrating a family saint 

Beloved grandmother, great inspiration

Today marks the 88th birthday of my beloved grandmother, and although I’ve written about her many times before, I want to do so again, because she is such an amazing woman.

Nearly all that is good about me, and nothing that is bad, can be attributed to her. She has been an inspiration to me since I was born.

We celebrated her birthday over the weekend and it was a joyous occasion. She’s had some health setbacks over the past year but she’s fought back strong and hard, as she’s done her entire life, and her mind is sharper than ever.

I haven’t always been a good grandson to her, but she’s always stood behind me during the darkest days of my life. She’s my biggest fan and strongest supporter. When I’ve suffered setbacks, or lost a job, she’s believed in me and given me strength.

I would wish that all people would have such a saint in their family. Life hasn’t been easy for me but it would have been exponentially more difficult without her.

Her biography is inspirational to me and is a lesson in perseverance. Harriet Irene Bradburn was born on June 6, 1919, and got married to Fred Burton, my grandfather, in 1935.

He was 15 years older than his 16-year-old bride. My mother, Sue, was born on June 26, 1936, during one of the hottest summers of the 20th century, in the beautiful town of Mecca, Ind., located outside of Rockville on the far western edge of the state.

The young family lived in the home of Grandma McCool, Fred’s grandmother. The home, not much more than a shack, really, sat about 500 yards away from a large, very steep hill. Their only source of water was a pump that sat at the top of that hill.

Every time they needed water, it was a long trudge up the hill to fill up two buckets and bring them back down. Water for washing. Water for dishes. Water for cooking. Water for baths. The stove burned wood and coal, but there was a free source of coal at a nearby location.

Fred and one of his friends would go scrape some off the side of a stripped piece of land and beat the system that way. Store-bought coal was just too expensive.

Fred had just finished up doing some work for the WPA and CCC when he met Irene and married her and moved in with Grandma McCool. When Sue was born, Grandma McCool would watch her while Irene went up the hill for water, three or four times a day.

It was a long, difficult climb even in good weather. When it snowed, it was almost an impossible task. Grandma McCool passed away from rheumatism when Sue was 3 or 4. After that, Sue would have to accompany her mother on the many trips up the hill.

There was a poker den in town, the “card house,” and Fred liked to go there and play cards for money. Unfortunately for Irene, Fred would almost never bring a bucket of water back with him when he returned from the card house.

He’d always “forget” to take an empty bucket with him. Electricity came to Mecca around the time Sue was born, but it took forever for the electric company to build a pole and run a line down the hill. So the 20th century didn’t come to rural Indiana until the late 1930s, and then only because Franklin Roosevelt ordered it.

And once they got electricity at Grandma McCool’s house, it was just lights. No electric stove and especially no electric water pump. “We had a well but there wasn’t any water in it,” my grandmother says.

When Sue was 5 or 6, Fred landed a job with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the family moved to Indianapolis. It was wartime and jobs were available again.

“We had it made after that,” my grandmother says. The family never went hungry, she says, but there sure wasn’t any room for any luxuries.

“You didn’t have a pot to piss in,” I told my grandmother.

“We didn’t even have a window to throw it out of,” she said. We laughed.

I love my grandmother so much. 

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