From Rags to Riches

**Names have been changed for anonymity**

                When arriving at Catherine B’s house, you’re greeted with a hug, a kiss, and one question: “what would you like to eat?” And don’t even think about telling her you’re not hungry, because she’ll make you something anyway.

                Upon entering her living room and waiting for her to wander back from the kitchen it’s apparent that my grandmother loves her family. There are pictures on all of the walls, sitting on every table, inside the china cabinets that line two walls and stuck into the sides of a large rustic mirror of her children, siblings and grandchildren.

                This deep love for her family is different than most, however. The love and importance my grandmother places in her family stems from something tragic that happened when she was just a young girl—becoming an orphan.

                Her father, John Demetris, immigrated from Greece to work on the Panama Canal and eventually settled down in Clinchco, VA, where he worked as a coal miner. While there he met Pearl Stanley and they married and had seven children. Catherine was the youngest child and has the least memories of her parents.

                Her mother died in 1936, when my grandma was four months old. From what she was told her mother died at home in their bathtub due to a loss of blood. It was assumed she died from late complications of birth, but after finding Pearls’ death certificate, it’s assumed her death was due to stomach cancer. Catherine’s father died in 1944 when my grandma was nine years of age. He got into a car accident while driving home from work. He was ran off of the road by a drunk driver and tumbled over a cliff. His body was recovered and he was in a coma for three days but ultimately he died from head trauma, brain damage and paralysis.

                After both her parents passed away she was shuffled between her siblings. She jumped mainly between two of her sisters and oldest brother. She lived with her brother Tom in Virginia until he went away to California to work on ships for the Navy. She was then put in her sister Irene’s home in Virginia. When money was running short, she was given a few dollars and a can of food and put on a train for New York, where her eldest sister Beatrice lived.

                While she lived with Beatrice, she was put in charge of taking care of the children. When she wasn’t doing that, she was babysitting for other families in their apartment complex in the Bronx. It was then that she decided if she ever had children, they wouldn’t have a life like hers. If she was lucky enough to have a family, she would make sure they knew they were loved, they would be cared for, and she would make sure her family was always close.

                Catherine was passed back and forth between the two sisters for her entire life. After World War II, both Irene and Tom moved to Michigan and Catherine went along. Here, she met her husband, Earl B., and was finally able to have a family of her own. She had five kids and while she and Earl weren’t able to afford to feed them the best food or give them everything they wanted, they always knew they were loved and were always close.

                My grandmother knew she had succeeded in finally having the family she always wanted when she got married and had children, but even more so when she became a grandmother. Her five children are all married and have given her eight grandchildren, seven of whom are still living. All 19 of us get together for the holidays and that’s when you’ll find my grandmother the happiest: surrounded by the family she strived to give a better upbringing than she was afforded.