Interestingly, I've recently thought a book based on my great grandmother's life would make for an exciting read. She was born in 1904 Oklahoma, when it was still Indian Territory. She was married at 16. She was 1/2 Delaware Indian + 1/2 Caucasian [mainly German]. That's quite a combo.
I entered an essay about her in a contest, Women of Valor. Unfortunately, Granny and I did not win. I have decided to post the essay on my blog anyway, calling today [we.can.all.be.winners.day], because, hey, it's my blog. So, here's to people from the land of Cowboys and Indians and Oil and Lots of Wind.......
Lena Mae Ketchum Slocter, Woman of Valor
A yearly childhood highlight for my sister and I was our family’s annual trek from our hometown of Yuma, Arizona, to Phoenix each summer. In early June, our great grandmother would fly from Tulsa to Sky Harbor International Airport where we’d pick her up for a four week visit. The three hour drive to Phoenix was marked with excitement, as we planned visits to the big city restaurants, maybe a mall, and exploring the vast (to us) Sky Harbor. In the 1970s, you could wait for your arriving family members at the gate, and we joyfully watched for Granny to walk into the airport. I can still remember her voice, and the way she said “you-uns” instead of “you guys” or “ya’ll”. My sister and I loved the month she spent with us, playing Crazy 8s, teaching us to make beaded necklaces, and watching Richard Simmons.
My great grandmother, Lena Mae Ketchum Slocter, was born in 1904. She lived her entire life in one county in Oklahoma, close to the center of our country. Her paternal grandfather’s name was Ta We Lah Len and he was a full blooded Delaware Indian. Her mother, Hattie Pitsenbarger, was a descendant of Abraham Pitsenbarger, a German immigrant who fought in the Revolutionary War. Her father, John Redman Ketchum, was a full blooded Native American. All of this is interesting to me, not just because it’s a part of my history, but because Lena Mae’s make-up was fairly diverse, at a time when diversity most likely wasn’t touted like it is today.
Lena Mae married at 16, and became a grandmother at 35. I was her first great grandchild, born five days after she turned sixty-four. She was a strong influence in my father’s raising, as his mother was a single mom for ten plus years, at again, a time when single mothering wasn’t the norm. Lena Mae was widowed when she was sixty-two, and lived nearly thirty years after my great grandfather passed.
In my mind, female independence is a modern concept, something that came about in the 1960s in a generation of career minded, success focused women. By the time the 60s rolled in, my great grandmother had already faced so much that required self-reliance or failure. There wasn’t really a choice for her. She’d lost a child when he was two years old. She’d sent a son to war and another overseas to a dangerous career, supported a daughter through a failed marriage, and helped to raise not only her own children, but grandchildren, nephews and nieces and friends’ children. She opened her home to those who needed shelter. She befriended other women who needed support. And she faithfully attended a country church.
Lena Mae influenced me to take up jewelry making, showing me how to bead. She wholeheartedly supported my piano playing in church, even insisting that I play offertories at her church when our family visited. She was faithful to write back if I sent her a letter, and for a woman born in Oklahoma before it was granted statehood, traveled around the country fairly uninhibited.
Lena Mae was a woman of valor. She never worked a job outside the home, but she trained up many children, enabling them to do so. My mother inherited a grandma via marriage and my great grandma passed wisdom down to her, not in a begrudging way, but as a supportive, older woman, who wanted our family to succeed. Thankfully, my mom loved her and gleaned from the support.
Lena Mae was fun as well as fun loving. She definitely didn’t become a crotchety old lady. I wish she could have met my children. I wish they could have known her. She would have loved going to their sporting events and music concerts. I think she’d be proud of where my life has taken me, even if I don’t attend a Baptist church, like the one she faithfully attended year after year after year.
Proverbs 31 states, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed.” What a beautiful description of my precious great grandmother.