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  • Writer's pictureKara Larson

Discovering Grandma Irene

When I was a little girl, my favorite times were spent at my Grandma Murray's house. She loved to have us grandkids come stay with her, and she was always ready with cool toys or yard sale finds for us to use for the imagination. We loved it when she would read Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit stories and use the different fun voices. She would let us take over her house to create make-believe diner's with the neighbor kids. She bought huge tire tubes we would put a water sprinkler in the middle of and jump and play all day. She loved to teach us all about plants, birds, and reptiles. She included us in the kitchen when she made her famous pickled watermelon rinds or persimmon pudding. We loved her because we felt how much she loved us! I miss her and the kind of grandma she was. She passed away when I was just 9 years old. I never thought about the significance of that age until recently when my Dad and I took a road trip to learn more about my Grandma's life before she turned 9 years old herself.

You see, at 9, my Grandma was adopted by the Walter's. I did always know she had been adopted, and I kind of knew her back story, but when you're little, you don't ask a lot of questions. Even my Dad had not asked a lot of questions, but as he has gotten older, and is now almost the age she was when she died, his curiosity has grown. With the little bit of information he had, he began to make trips to the small towns bordering IL and IN where she was born and was raised, and knock on doors to see what he could discover.

Grandma Irene was the last born of 6 children (one of which died in infancy), right after her father died of tuberculosis. Before her mother passed of the same disease, she made sure each of her children had a home to go to. Grandma went with her 15 year old sister to their Aunt Nora and Uncle Harry's farm, along with the milking cow. After her sister married and left home at the age of 17, Grandma stayed with her Aunt and Uncle until age 4 or 5 and was then given to a gypsy lady.

This is where the mystery begins. Uncle Harry already had 8 children of his own, so it was assumed he didn't want another mouth to feed, and now her older sister was not there to take care of her either. But why a gypsy lady? And what was her name? My Dad remembered his mom telling him that she and the gypsy lady were then taken in by a kind farmer and his wife before she was given to her adopted parents. He had a picture of his mom at age 8 standing in a pig lot (seen here), and on the back of it was written "taken at the Chisler Farm" by her sister Golda. So he posted it on a Facebook group titled "If you grew up in Graysville, IN"! Miraculously, the current residents of the farm recognized the pig pen that they had taken down and responded to my dad's post! So he made a trip to meet them and hoped they had any information to share.

Luck would have it that the current residents are the 2nd owner's of that home and have lived there for over 50 years. When my Dad told him why he was there, the wife had a memory from years ago of his mother, Irene Murray, making her own rode trip around the same age as my dad was at that time. She had knocked on her door then and shared her story! How awesome is that?! I have goosebumps just thinking about it! She told her that when she was 5 years old, she was camped across the road over a hill with the gypsies. My Dad was shocked to hear this. He knew she lived with a gypsy, but imagined they had a home of some sort. Not that they were actually camping out in the cold! Apparently, the woman became sick and out of the kindness of the farmer and his wife's hearts, they took her in along with this little 6 year old girl. When my Dad checked the town's census, it just so happened that it was taken during the short time she lived with them. It was on record that an orphan child, Irene Myers, age 8, was living with this kind couple!

The unnamed woman had died, and Grandma Irene stayed with this older couple from age 6 to 8 or so. But then the farmer's wife passed away, and the 70 year old man did not want to care for a young girl on his own. He had heard about a young couple who struggled to conceive, and asked if they would like to adopt her. So that is how Grandma Irene was taken into the Walter's home, but records show that she was not legally adopted by them until she was 18! She remained an only child in her adopted home until she went to college. Then the Walter's adopted another 9 year old girl.

My Dad and I went to her grave site, where my Grandpa Jessie and Uncle Tom's grave sites are as well. We traveled to the town she had been born, and found her biological parent's grave sites. We drove past her uncle's home where she had been given along with the milking cow. Tried to spot the gypsy camping grounds, and visited the current residents of the kind farmer's home. As we drove down the winding, wooded roads, we tried to imagine what her journey on a slow wagon would have been like. We even went past her old grade school. It brought my Grandma to life in a new way. Not just as the Grandma I baked with, but as the little girl Irene who was passed from one caretaker to the next.

It was so timely to make this journey with my Dad right after we started our own adoption process. I never really took in what her life had been like before, and as I imagined it, it made me think about who is caring for my own daughter right now? Who is holding her and telling her everything will be ok, as I can imagine the gypsy woman did for my Grandma? Is she scared? Does she feel displaced? It made me want to rush this process we are in even more so that I can bring her journey of displacement to an end. To give her our last name and let her know how much we love her. I know God is watching over her. I believe he is providing those people who are walking alongside her as she is seeking to find home. But it hurts to not have it be now. Before this road trip with my Dad, when my husband and I wrote down the age we were willing to adopt... we had said up to age 9. Coincidence? I think not!

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