Grandma Was A Little Spitfire & A Patriot

All My Friends Wished Grandma Burton Belonged To Them

It was amazing to me how my grandma entertained my friends and always made them laugh at her antics. Whenever Grandma and Grandpa Burton came to visit, my friends desperately wanted to be included.

Grandma was a little spitfire of a woman. She was funny and delighted in entertaining my friends. She always wore her hair in those tight little pin curls. Her dresses, even in the winter months, appeared as if made from flour sack cotton. She wore horrible black shoes with two-inch heels that reminded me of the shoes the nuns out at St. Mary’s wore.

Grandma Burton Was a spitfire of a woman.
Grandma Burton never shirked her duty. That duty included voting.

Grandma Cheers a Cousin’s Big Win

I remember my grandma’s hair was white as snow when I was little and just as white when my first child was born. Mom and I bought grandma some pedal-pushers to wear on a trip out west in the picture above. It was the only time I ever saw her without her standard cotton dress. (But, she didn’t shed those ugly black shoes!)

It was Tuesday, November 8, 1960, when my grandmother was her most animated. In a closely contested election, Democratic United States Senator John F. Kennedy defeated incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican Party nominee. That may not seem like a big moment for most of you, but my grandma was born a Kennedy from the same clan. JFK’s father was a 2nd cousin, I believe, to her.

She’d been glued to the television set throughout the election process. Her grandparents had died on the trip over from Ireland, and a cousin took in my great-grandfather (her father) and raised him on a farm in Virginia. She was elated that her immigrant family produced a President of the United States.

Grandma’s Tenacity

I was always amazed by the stories grandma told. One of my favorites was how she earned extra money during the Great Depression to support her family. She and Grandpa ran a restaurant in Washington, Iowa, at the time. When Grandma wasn’t working in the restaurant, she was in her kitchen, making a homemade fly-spray batch. During the weekends and early evening hours, she drove around the countryside in their old Ford, selling the concoction to the area’s farmers.

She not only helped her own family, but she also offered a product the farmer’s desperately needed for their livestock at a price far lower than anything they could purchase at the general store. It was a win-win for everyone involved.

That was my grandma. Wherever there was a need, she showed up. She worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known, and she did it with a smile on her face.

Tremendous Loss

I’ll never forget November 22, 1963, at Keota High School. They called us into the gym shortly after lunch to announce that President Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. It wasn’t long before we were told JFK hadn’t survived and that school was being released early. All I could think of was my poor grandma sitting in front of her television set in Ottumwa, Iowa, watching the loss of a man she cherished over and over again.

As I walked outside, the buses lined the street between the school and the front of my house. I’ve never seen so many kids board the buses without saying a word. So many of us were quietly weeping. We kept our eyes down, fearing we might fall completely apart if someone caught our eye that afternoon.

My brother immediately went to his room. I moved into the living room and turned on the television. Like my grandmother, I was glued to the screen when my parents came home from work. Mom’s eyes were swollen. She didn’t say a word as she curled up on the sofa beside me. I remember how she reached out and took my hand in hers. She didn’t say a word. No words were necessary. That was a Friday.

Another Shock

On Saturday, Mom couldn’t get out of bed. The loss of her favorite President threw her into a deep depression. My brother and I hung around the house that day. My dad was a staunch Republican, so he preferred to watch Gunsmoke that evening on television.

Sunday arrived, but Mom was still in bed. She insisted that my father take us to church. When we returned, she met us at the door, screaming that someone had shot Oswald. We all crowded around the television as the newscasters tried to unravel everything that had happened since noon on Friday. Mother had gone from depression to frenzy in less than an hour.

Grandma Brought Her Strength to the House

Grandma and Grandpa arrived on Monday. It’s the only time in my life that I remember this loving little woman didn’t even try to make me laugh. She took over the house and did the things Mom wasn’t able to handle at the moment.

In all honesty, I believe my grandma came to be with the people she loved most in the world in this moment of tragedy. We all watched as John-John saluted his father’s casket, and we all cried, except for my father. He was stoic as always.

If there is one message my grandmother would want me to share with you, it would be to vote in this election. Once you do that, prepare yourself to support the person the majority of our citizens voted for. Whether you’re elated at the outcome or distressed by it, the United States belongs to you. We need to come together and find a compromise in the coming days.

Raise Your Voice

You pay the salary of every person in our government. Let them hear your voice.

There is no excuse for shirking your duty as an American citizen. Vote early by appointment if you need to, as I will do this coming week. Be a Patriot like Grandma Burton, and wear two masks if that makes you feel safer. Put your hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse, but be sure to take it. Wear gloves if you need to. Please take your own black pen, so you don’t have to use one of theirs.

Remember the compassion my grandmother showed to others when times were tough.

Think about her dedication and integrity.

Vote your heart and perform your patriotic duty in 2020.

Sure, things aren’t perfect, but they could be so much worse if we allow hatred to fester in our midst.

A Final Note

In the weeks following the assassination of JFK, my grandmother received a hand-written note from Rose Kennedy written on one of the prayer cards handed out at the funeral. Grandma slept with that card under her pillow for the rest of her life.

You can read more about my life in these posts:

Seven Decades in America (Part 1)

Seven Decades in America – Part 2



Seven Decades in America – Part 3


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