Telling the story of the women who inspire me on a daily basis is a monumental task, especially if you consider that their stories aren’t just their’s, or mine for that matter. These stories are the stories of my family and how we were brought together with each other and our communities through the strong and caring nature that these women embodied. It is our job to carry on those legacies of caring for others, having faith through the hard times and being strong enough to support entire communities with all the poise and spunk they did.
I have to admit, when I originally sat down to write this article I was struggling. I wanted to present a biography that would give you all a well rounded picture of the amazing woman that was Dum. However, after struggling for weeks to actually get the bio out of my head, I decided to do what I do best; just wright what I know and tell you the stories of Dum that help to keep me inspired no matter what situation I may find myself in.
Part 1: Great-Grammy D, AKA Dum
There is something I have to explain to you before diving into Dum’s story. Dum was my grandfather’s mother. She married my great-grand Pap when Pappy was just a small child because my Pappy’s biological mother died from surgical complications. This meant that Dum was coming into an already established family of a widower and his 2 young sons living in a mining town in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Not an easy task for anyone; but for those who knew her well back then, they said she integrated the family and brought structure to a chaotic situation with strength and grace.
Dum was born on August 13, 1912 in Uniontown, PA. She attended Uniontown Sr. High School where she was a Commercial Studies student with a dream of being a secretary. After her graduation in May, 1930, she began her working carrier as the secretary for the Uniontown Motor Club.
A Boy and His Mother
The story of Dum, at least for me, really started when she met my great-grand Pap back in 1938 while she was working as a secretary for the Crucible Mines in Southwestern Pennsylvania (PA). She had been working with my great-grand Pap for some time since she did the paperwork in the office and he was a foremen. She knew that his wife died and the two of them decided to take the opportunity to pursue their shared interest in each other. It was a little bit of a scandal within the family since they were married about 6 months after my biological great-grandmother’s death.
After their marriage, Dum assumed the roles of wife and mother right out of the gate. She was by all accounts an amazing woman who was deemed the only one who could tame the boys. The “boys” in this article will refer to my Pappy and his older brother, later to include his younger brother as well.
Over the years I’ve heard so many stories from my Pappy about how he and his rough and tumble brothers would fight and drive everyone around them mad. He said that no matter what went on, Dum never treated him or his older brother like the “others” or “step kids”, even when his younger brother came along. She always treated them as her own, from day one. Even today, at the age of 85, you can see the gratitude and reverence in my Pappy’s eyes for his mother, Dum.
Pappy told me that his biological mother’s family tried to convince him that Dum wasn’t a good person and that she wasn’t his “real” mother when he was a child. He said that he told them all of the things that Dum had done for him and his older brother, and that she always treated them like her own no matter what. This was in stark contrast to how they treated her and he told them that she was more of an actual family member than any of them were. Like I said earlier, it got a bit messy when it came to my biological great-grandmother’s family.
You see, the loyalty that my Pappy still shows for Dum, over 25 years after her death, is only one example of the immense impact that this strong and kind woman had in our little part of the world.
Dum and her role in the community
As with her role in our family, Dum was known for her strength and compassion in the wider community. She was known for being tough as nails when the time called for a no non-sense solution, while at the same time being the person you could go to for advice on everything from relationships to finances and recipes. She was known for being a fiercely loyal friend and did everything with the passion that still drives her legacy today.
Stories of Dum and the way she treated friends, family and the wider community have trickled down to me over the years through various channels. One of those channels being my mother’s best friends. Mom’s best friends are a pair of sisters who grew up next door to Dum and Pap in when they lived in Beaver, PA. Because Dum and Pap lived next door, Mom and the two kids closest to her age became friends as small children. Now, we will be visiting these sisters and their older siblings as well in coming installments of this series, but for now we will talk about the younger pare, Aunties Judy and Lucia.
As with most family stories, this one has a few sides to it. You see, Dum and Pap moved to Beaver after Pap was given a management position at the then new Crucible Steel mill in Midland, PA. They moved to the worker’s end of Beaver, a short distance down the Ohio River from Midland, at the end of a small side street next to an Italian family. Today this might now be such a big deal, but in Post War America, it was very important to know what your nationality of origin was because you needed to make sure your values aligned with those of the people around you. Dum and Pap didn’t mind having Italian neighbors as much as some others did because of their time in the mining town where every ethnicity had their own segregated areas. Yes, this is a true story. Ask my Pappy and just about any history book.
The S family was your stereotypical Catholic Italian family from back in those days. 4 kids, the youngest being the hardest to handle by all accounts, with a strong faith and family base to everything they did. My mother decided to be friends with the crazy youngest, Aunt Judy. It was common knowledge that Dum always said that Judy was the “worst kid” she had ever dealt with, which was saying something after raising 3 boys.
I tell you all this backstory to give you this. With the many differences that Dum and the S family had, and her general dislike for Aunt Judy as a bratty kid, Aunt Judy had nothing but good and kind things to say about Dum throughout her life. She would always tell me stories about how Dum would always offer her cookies or something to eat when she was playing with my mom. She told me that she had gotten hurt and her parents weren’t home, so Dum took pity on her and patched her up without thinking twice about it. When Dum passed, Aunt Judy was the one who went with my mom to Uniontown to cook soup and set up the food for the family because she had loved and respected Dum so much.
Even though Dum didn’t necessarily like Aunt Judy as a bratty little kid who “needed beat,” her words not mine, she always showed her kindness and compassion when it was needed. This left a mark so large on Aunt Judy that I felt it’s residual effects as I grew up, even after Dum’s death.
This is a lesson I still carry with me today. The fundamental belief that now matter how annoying someone is to you, your kindness could mean everything to them. The kindness that Dum showed Aunt Judy was then passed on to me when Dum was no longer here to share it. The idea that you have a social obligation to help those around you and understand that the way someone is acting now might not be their best self is still something I try to remember when the world around me is going crazy.
“George, you horse’s ass…get Debbi a chair!”
Some stories you hear about people are just too good not to share. This is going to be one of those stories.
My parents are George and Debbi, just in case you didn’t know. Dum is Debbi’s grandmother. This is the story of how an old woman schooled a young man.
Holidays have always been held at my grandparent’s house, my mom’s parents. When Dum was still alive, she would come up from the “mountains” where she lived above Uniontown back to Beaver for holiday celebrations. One year my parents showed up kind of late for the event and there weren’t any chairs. When one opened up, my dad took it.
Mom had been going around talking to everyone and didn’t see the chair open up. Dum, the ever present force of nature that she was, saw Dad take the chair and told him, “George, you horse’s ass…get Debbi a chair.” With that, Dad snapped to attention and said, “Oh, yes mam!” and ran to give Mom his chair.
I know this might seem like a silly story to tell you because it is essentially my dad neglecting to be chivalrous, but it illustrates the respect and compliance that Dum demanded from the entire family. Even as she sat in a chair, cotton topped and all, she commanded respect, and no one wanted to disappoint Dum.
“Do you know what my Grandson did!?!”
As I mentioned before, Dum was a kind and giving person who never made people feel as though they weren’t part of the family. This extended to my father as well. I will be talking more about my dad and his side of the family in future installments of this series, but for now, it is suffice to say that my dad didn’t have the warmest upbringing and the idea that an old lady would welcome him and appreciate him for who he was and the things he did for her touched him deeply. To the point that he still tells this story every year when we pick tomatoes.
My parents have never been what you would call well off, but they always try to think of others and share what they do have when they can. My mom was extremely close with Dum and my parents would try to visit her at least once a year, since she lived a little over 2 hours away in the mountains of Southern Pennsylvania in her later life.
Dad would always make sure to take some sort of gift for Dum because he knew she would appreciate it. On this occasion, it happened to be the middle of tomato season and Dad knew Dum hadn’t planted any, but loved fresh ones. He told me that he went out to the garden the morning he and Mom were leaving and picked a 5 gallon bucket full of tomatoes. He stacked them, starting with the green ones in the bottom, gradually getting riper until the ripest ones that were ready to eat were on top. He loaded the bucket into the truck and they made their way down to Dum’s house.
When he gave Dum the bucket of tomatoes and told her about the green ones in the bottom so she wouldn’t have to eat them or can them right away, she was so excited that she giggled. Yes…giggled! Dad said that later that day he heard her on the phone with several of her friends on the mountain telling them, “Do you know what my grandson did for me?” Apparently the entire little old lady population of the mountain knew what he had done by suppertime. This kind act by my dad earned him the title of “sweetest thing” on the mountain that summer.
Dad still tells this story, not so much because of the praise he got, but because of the appreciation Dum showed for a small act of kindness that Dad didn’t even really think too much of before he heard her raving about him to her friends. This is a lesson that he passed down to me; that even the smallest acts that we may think insignificant, can make a huge difference to the person we are doing it for.
As with most of the people I write about who have influenced and inspired me, there are a lifetime of stories to share about Dum. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve chosen to share with you today. I hope that they have illustrated to you, not simply how the way we live our lives effects us, but how it can ripple through the generations; teaching us about how small everyday kindnesses can lead to life changing memories for those around us. Even the smallest acts of kindness get notices, even if you don’t think they do.
Check out some of Dum’s home cooking with her Chicken and Dumplings recipe.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Amazingly Ordinary: The Real Women Who Inspire Me. Please join me next time to learn about another amazing woman and the lessons she has taught me.