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Grandmother Cecilia Marie S. MAG
The phone rang six times before my grandmother’s voice came over the line. It always takes her a while to cross her tiny two-room apartment, but since she is 90, I don’t mind much. Cecilia Marie Kotwicki was born on January 28, 1917. The purpose of my call was to bring her back to when she was in her twenties, in the 1940s. A lot happened to her during that time, but her outlook didn’t change much, it seems. My grandma seems to know that the best thing to do is get through everything with a smile and remember the good stuff. That is exactly what she did, and still does.
“So, Grandma, where did you live?”
“Hmmm, let’s see, in the forties? That was Alpena. It was a small town. You knew everybody, and everybody knew you.” That fact was an advantage in business. Her brother, Clarence, owned a store called Kotwicki’s. But when he joined the Navy and was sent to a base in Oakland, California, she took over. Kotwicki’s sold all sorts of things but mostly clothing. Grandma would go on buying trips to restock the women’s department.
“Did you have a hard time finding items during that time?”
“Oh, yes, lots of things.” All she could remember specifically, though, was silk stockings. Because of the war, they couldn’t import silk. She said that there were a whole lot of other things. The food, especially, was different. But once again, she couldn’t be specific.
“It just shows you how much you take for granted. But you just deal with it, and then when you get as old as me, you forget and take things for granted again.”
I could tell that she was sad, so I changed the subject to music. She liked big band. But she also liked Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. I laughed at the second name, but he was a real guy, with a more reasonable name of J.P. Richardson.
Grandma said they had lots of dances in town. Sometimes soldiers would come down from the military base upstate. Grandma was at one of those dances in 1942 when Lynn Windle Scrimgeour asked her to dance. He was in the army and was “handsome” - and destined to be my grandfather. The two would meet at dances as often as they could, and according to Grandma, “It was a very big thing and eventually turned into the real deal.” On November 24, 1943, my grandma became a Scrimgeour.
“After that we went to California for six months, because Lynn got moved.” Grandma and Grandpa rented a small apartment on the base. It was so tiny that they had to cook in the garage. Grandma said it was a lot of fun as well as a challenge. She never backs way from a challenge - even today. Except rats. There were rats in that apartment, and she was terrified of them. “You could hear them at night; they were in the walls. It took me a while to get used to that.”
During the war, they didn’t have a car. They walked most of the time, but there were some places they couldn’t walk like San Francisco to visit friends, or Oakland to visit her brother. So they would hitchhike. They would hop cars all the way up and all the way back. I had a hard time imagining my grandparents hitchhiking, but, she said, “Everybody did it. Since so few people had cars, it was the only way to get around. That was how it was. But it was fun, so I didn’t care.”
When they moved back to Alpena, Grandpa had to go overseas. While he was gone, my oldest uncle, Don, was born. “Your grandpa didn’t get to see fat little Donny until he was six weeks old!” They didn’t have more kids for a while, and by the time my dad was born, Don was 14.
Grandma lived through the war and the times solid and steadfast. Friends went off to fight, and some didn’t return. But it was life as usual to her. She took the bad, and enjoyed the good to its fullest. She told me over and over that it was “just the same as today. We did what you kids do.”
While I know that “we kids” do things a lot differently, I didn’t tell her. She meant that life was life, and still is. The way that hitchhiking was normal - you just got over what you didn’t have. While her physical stamina is failing her now, she is still strong-headed (in the best of ways). The stories she told me were nothing special, but I know she enjoyed telling them.
If there is a lesson from my interview, it would be to follow the theme of my grandmother’s life and her morals. Perseverance prevails. You don’t have to do anything magnificent to be special. I know this because Grandma is special to me, and her simple will is something I will always try to have. She survived the test of war and became a better, stronger person. It makes me wonder if I could do this - I hope so. The most important thing I can learn from Cecilia Marie Scrimgeour is to be the best person you can, and live and grow. I hung up the phone that day with more respect for my grandma than ever.