“Everybody did the same thing. There were no rich, no poor people. And that was one thing that was nice about it.”
Two things stick out in my mind from talking with sweet miss Alice. One is how simple, yet amazing, life can be. And the other is how a life can be restored and prosper even after immeasurable loss and hardship. I hope that her story will inspire you the way it inspired me; to always press on and have hope for the future.
Alice was born in Romney, West Virginia in 1936. She was the oldest of three children.
The town that she grew up in was small, “back in the holler”, as she called it. They had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and got their water from the spring.
“Everybody did the same thing. There were no rich, no poor people. And that was one thing that was nice about it. We didn’t have these gadgets like this today. We didn’t even have a telephone; we didn’t have electricity until the mid 50s when electric came back to that area. Everybody had to sign a petition to get it to come in.”
She spent her days playing baseball with a broom for a bat, walking a half a mile or more to the next house. They never missed school, and school was never cancelled for snow. Her dad would just take the horses and make a path for them to the school bus. A very different childhood, one that most of us can’t fathom.
“I would never regret the life I had. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for the life I had growing up.”
Her childhood was ultimately interrupted by World War II. Her father was away from 1941-1943, and her mother was left with three young children. She beamed about how proud she was of the mother that she had.
“I think a lot about my mother when I think about my childhood and the influence she had on our lives. Dad did too, but he was different than my mother was toward us. He wasn’t mean, but mom was the one that kept us going.”
Her mother kept them going through World War II. During that time, their lives were changed. Alice recalled collecting aluminum foil off of cigarette packs and taking it to school to send to the servicemen to use for parachutes and other items. In particular, she remembered her ration book.
“During the war we had ration books. It was a book where you could get a pound of sugar or a pound of flour or a pair of shoes, because during the war they need all the stuff for the soldier boys. But I would get a pair of shoes, and then my brother and my sister and then it was back to my turn; poor mother, I don’t know where she got her shoes.”
After the war, life pressed on. Alice graduated from high school, and went on to work in a bank. She eventually met her husband through her brother-in-law. Shortly after they were married, he was sent to Germany. They were separated for three months as newly-weds before she went to join him. It was incredible to hear how she met people who watched out for her throughout her trek overseas.
“When I got on the bus the bus driver came back for the money. No, he didn’t want it. So I said “I have another one.” He wouldn’t take it. I said “This is all I have.” This GI came up and said “What’s the matter?” I said “I don’t know, this is all I have and he don’t want it.” He said “It’s too much, he can’t break a twenty mark bill.” He said “I’ll pay your way.” Then he took me to the train station, took me to where the train would be coming in, and he said “At 5 o’clock when that train comes in right here, that’s the train you get on.”
Once on the train to Munich, accidentally boarding a car for men only, Alice met a priest, who helped to be sure she made it the rest of the way.
“This little priest sat down beside of me. And he had a list of everywhere the train stopped. And when he got off, he circled where he got off and then circled Munich. I don’t know how he knew it. But he did. And I stayed awake that whole night marking off the towns till Munich.”
Ultimately she arrived in Munich and joined her husband. They traveled on a few tours with the military, before he retired. I found it interesting that she never mentioned their children, which often is the next part in people’s stories that they want to share. So I asked. Her response that she couldn’t have children caught me off guard. She shared how they tried to have children, and even tried to adopt, but it never came to be.
“I just had to accept that fact. It happens, and you can’t do nothing about it. You just have to accept it and go on. It’s hard sometimes. Now it’s been so long that I don’t think about it so much. But I love little children.”
This was just the first of many difficulties that I would learn about Alice’s life. After her husband retired from the military and they moved to Hanover, PA, her husband passed away unexpectedly at the age of 50. Her advice from that experience? To love those around you, and never let anything go unsaid.
“Don’t let a little argument ruin everything. Never go to bed angry with one another. When my husband died, I told some friends there’s a lot of things that were left unsaid. Which you never think about, until it happens. Talk to one another…He’s not here anymore to say I love you, or thank you for this. Maybe if I’d had more time I could have done better with that.”
Alice had two serious relationships following the death of her husband; each of which unexpectedly passed away as well. Shortly after losing the man in her second relationship, she also lost her mother. I couldn’t help but wonder how she overcame all of that loss and heartbreak.
“I have no idea. It’s sad because there’s times when I can go in here and clean and I’ll get my mother’s picture and talk to her till I start crying and have to put it away.”
Though she may not understand how, Alice did press forward following her husband’s passing, but it was new for her to be on her own. Something I can only imagine adjusting to for the first time at age 43.
“When I was married, I’d bring my paycheck home and I was given an allowance. I was on an allowance from when we got married until he died. After he passed away I was free; not in a bad sense, but now I’m on my own. And everything I do I have to answer for myself. There’s nobody there to help me. I’ve had to be on my own and make all the decisions about everything since he died.”
She ultimately joined her local chapter of Eastern Star, a Masonic fraternal organization, which was a turning point in her life, and gave her something to focus on.
“Eastern Star was a big change for me. It was after the death of my husband. I was shy, I didn’t talk. But with this I had to talk. I had to use my brain and I was on my own. That was a big turning point for me. I kind of made a promise to God that if our travels were safe, traveling with Eastern Star, that when we got finished I would work at church. And he gave us safe travels.”
Today Alice continues to do work with Eastern Star, and does in fact work with her local church. Despite not having children of her own, she has been a strong presence in the lives of her nieces and nephews, and is “Grandma Alice” to all of the kids in the neighborhood.
From a humble upbringing, through tragic loss, to a new chapter of independence later in life, Alice never lost faith. And the fact that through it all she continued and still continues to march onward, should instill a little more hope in us all.
“Nothing happens without the holy spirit directing you through God. There’s different little things that come up, that I think ‘Well, I’d have never done that on my own.’ He was there when I needed him. And helped me.”
– Want to read more from Alice? Check out the Living Lessons page