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An Interview With Wanda Hale Woodward, My Grandmother This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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What was the most memorable experience in your childhood?

It would bedifficult to pick the most memorable experience, because I was born during theDepression (in 1934), my dad was in the army in the South Pacific during WorldWar II, and shortly after the War we lived in Texas City when the Texas CityDisaster occurred on April 16, 1947.

I suppose the ship explosion was themost memorable, because I was in the seventh grade and lost so many friends aswell as their parents. I was at home when the ship caught on fire. At that timethe schools were so crowded that the high school used the buildings in themorning, and the junior high school went in the afternoon. My mom had justsuggested I take the city bus to town and get some colored film for the camera.The fire was the most beautiful orange color I have ever seen, and it could beclearly seen from our home.

I was in my bedroom making my bed when theblast blew my whole window frame across my bed. Luckily I was not hurt. Withinmoments another shock wave shot up a column of smoke about two thousand feet, andfires quickly spread throughout Monsanto chemical plant, the tank farms, and theadjoining refineries. The sky was filled with huge clouds of black smoke, andmost of the sky in the south end of town was black.

I can vividly rememberfamilies trying to find each other, lines of school children running down thestreet holding hands, people piling on flat bed trucks trying to escape, peoplerunning across the prairie carrying tables or chairs on their backs. We did crazythings, like grabbing our heavy winter coats as we left when it was a warm springday. We went to Goose Creek with relatives and my dad met up with us later. Thatnight another ship blew up and it shook our beds about twenty-five miles away.Our family was fortunate in that we did not lose anyone in the explosion.

The high school gymnasium was used as a morgue, and for months it had theodor of death. In fact, there was a strange odor all over town for ages itseemed. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, and people from all walks of life came tooffer aid.



How did this affect you growing up?

For a longtime everyone was on edge and didn't feel safe. I remember one day at school whenout of nowhere there was a huge clap of thunder, and kids panicked and crawledunder their desks.



What did you learn from thisexperience?

It made us all realize how precious life is and how quickly itcan be taken away. We all seemed to bond together and became closer.



Were there any hard times in your family when you were achild?

As I mentioned, I was born during the Depression and everyone had ahard time. There was little or no money. Children didn't ask for much becausethey understood everyone was in the same boat and it couldn't be helped. Iremember we didn't have a car, but my dad would pump my mom on the back of hisbike and me on the front when we went to the movies.

The Depression endedwith the outbreak of World War II. My dad was drafted in the army, and was goingto be shipped overseas from Maryland and couldn't come home to say good-bye. Somy mom took all our savings to purchase train tickets for us to go to Maryland tosee him one more time. There were no seats left on the troop train, but my momcried and showed the conductor the telegram we had received and he let us on.Other passengers were so kind to us. I was just eight years old and ladies let mesit on their laps on a couch in the restroom for the long three days and twonights trip.



Are you glad you had tough times growingup?

Yes, I think it prepares you for whatever the future holds, and makesyou appreciate the little things more.



Have you been through anytough times in your marriage?

We married in 1952, and when HurricaneCarla hit Texas City nine years later we lost almost everything we had. Woody(your dad) was two years old, and his little sister Linda was nine months old. Wehad four feet of water in our house, and the chemicals in the water ruined ourclothes, furniture, appliances, and even our pots and pans. No one had floodinsurance then.



How did you cope with this?

Our family,the Red Cross, and our church all rallied around us and helped with money,furniture and food. When we were able to come back after the hurricane we feltreally thankful. At least our house could be repaired, some of our friends'houses were so torn up you could see right through them.



When youhad kids, what was the most difficult thing about bringing them up?

I wasworking as an executive secretary in Galveston, and it was hard trying to balancea career and being a good mom. I was a perfectionist and wanted so badly to beperfect at everything, but that was impossible. It is hard to know when toprotect your children from making the wrong choices, and when to let them learnfrom their own mistakes. We parents want to remove the rocks from their pathswhenever possible.



How did you handle thesesituations?

Fortunately, my parents lived nearby and were loving,wonderful grandparents who were always there for us. They were full ofwisdom.



What motherly advice would you give otherparents?

Tell your children, family, and friends that you love them. Don'tjust assume that because you do things for them that they know how you feel. Noone ever gets tired of hearing, "I love you."

Treasure everymoment; your children will be grown before you know it. And by all means, taketime to smell the roses!



What was one thing that someone said toyou at one time that stuck in your head the most?

My mom always said,"Anything worth doing at all is worth doing well."

My favoriteEnglish teacher, Mrs. Schaeffer, taught us, "We learn to do bydoing."



What was the best thing that ever happened toyou?

That's easy. The best thing that ever happened to us was when we wereable to adopt you, Sara, our precious granddaughter! You were three years oldwhen your parents split up in California. I had never asked God to give me a babywhen I was 53 years old, but it was the best thing that ever happened to us. Youturned our life around and have given us more love than we could ever imagine.And we get to do all the fun things all over again. Without you we might neverhave opened our eyes and really experienced God working in our lives andhearts.

As soon as we adopted you, I lost my job of 18 years when thecompany was sold. I found out I had breast cancer, your grandpa was about to losehis job since his plant was being sold, and your Aunt Linda was quitting her jobas an aerospace engineer to go to Africa as a missionary. I wondered, "God,are these your plans?" But again, His plan is always best. I decided to quitwork so I could spend more time with you, and if I had not lost my job, Iwouldn't have thought I could.



If you had the chance, would youhave kids all over again?

You better believe it! And as someone once said,"If I had known grandkids would have been this much fun I would have hadthem first." Thank you for interviewing me, Sara.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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