For as long as I'd been alive, my grandmother lived in Lubbock,
Texas, which is sometimes nicknamed the "Hub City." It was really the
kind of nickname that only a Chamber of Commerce would dream up --
supposedly, all the roads leading to Lubbock made the city look like a
wheel hub, with many spokes coming off of it. In truth, the same could
be said for any large-ish city. When I was little, I didn't understand
what a hub was, so my grandmother explained it to me, and it made sense
to me. But I always knew that the only reason Lubbock was a hub was
because my grandmother lived there. And everyone went to Lubbock to see
My grandmother, Margaret Donley, died on Tuesday, January 10,
2012. She'd had her 100th birthday on Sept. 2, 2011. She'd suffered a
steep decline in health during the months after her birthday, and when I
saw her on Thanksgiving and Christmas, she told me repeatedly,
often through sobs, that she wished she could die. To be honest, I had
heard similar from her for years -- she had a flair for the dramatic and
a complete inability to withstand pain or discomfort, so every time she
got an upset stomach, she became convinced that death was on the
horizon. After her birthday, however, she went from moaning "Oh Lord,
help me" and "I think I'm going to die" to "Oh Lord, please let me die"
-- which is a significant and terrible change for a grandson to hear.
Margaret Boston was born in Whitesboro, Texas, and grew up in the
country, often under poor economic conditions. Her family didn't have
much money, especially once the Great Depression hit, but they made do
and were as successful as anyone might've been at that time and in that
rural part of the world. She used to tell us about roaming the
countryside around her home, about getting caught once in quicksand,
about her family once taking in a child who'd been given up by his
family because they couldn't afford to feed him. She graduated from high
school in Wellington, Texas, and the family later moved to Lubbock.
The family did a variety of jobs around that time, but the one I
always recall most is that they'd drive around West Texas towns
selling candy to stores. During this time, one of her brothers almost
got them in serious trouble at a small town cafe when he mischieviously
asked her, "Want a cigar, Bonnie?" Of course, the news was full of
accounts about Bonnie and Clyde back then -- and Bonnie was known for
liking cigars and for having red hair like my grandmother's. She
hustled him out of the cafe once they started closing the blinds in the
windows and berated him all the way home for almost getting them killed.
She married my grandfather, Harrison Donley, in 1940. They had two
kids, my mother, Lou Ann, and my uncle, Pat. My grandfather died in
1968, a few months before I was born. She got married again in 1974, to
Martin Donley, her late husband's brother. I called him my
grandfather from the moment they were married, and I think he always
liked that. He died in 1981.
My grandmother outlived two husbands, all five of her siblings, and
her son, who died in 2007 from diabetes complications. She was
survived by my mother, a daughter-in-law, six grandchildren, two
great-grandchildren, and nine nieces and nephews.
One thing that kept running through my mind in the days and weeks
after her death was that my grandmother had been, for decades, the hub
that the family wheel revolved around. For decades, there would be a
colossal noontime meal every Sunday at her home, and any family members
in Lubbock would show up to eat, play canasta, watch TV, and nap. In
recent decades, the numbers of people attending those dinners slowly
diminished until we finally convinced her to stop them -- not many
people were attending anymore, and she was too old to keep cooking
immense meals every Sunday.
We always had a pretty big family -- lots of brothers, sisters,
aunts, uncles, cousins, and everything else. They, of course, spent a
lot of their time with their own close families. But Christmas,
Thanksgiving, and lots of other major holidays brought them all over to
my grandmother's house, whether it was for supper, for a plate full of
rolls and gravy, or just to sit in the living room and visit.
Now that she's gone, the hub that held our wide-ranging family
together is gone. We won't have gigantic Christmas celebrations anymore,
with every distantly-related aunt and uncle in half the state showing
up for a slice of cherry cheese pie and a bag of my grandmother's
homemade peanut brittle. New hubs will develop, with one set of
cousins and aunts and uncles revolving around one, another set around
another hub, etc. I don't think there's a very strong likelihood that
I'll be seeing many of my more distantly-related cousins and aunts very
much anymore -- they'll have their own hubs, and I'll have mine, and the
hubs will only rarely intersect.
I expected that I would miss so much about my grandmother. I knew
that I'd miss hearing her tell stories about her childhood. I knew I'd
miss hearing her sing and laugh. I knew I'd miss watching her play with
my brother's dog.
But it never occurred to me that I should miss her as the person our
family revolved around. A wagon wheel that loses its hub will quickly
fall to pieces -- families, luckily, are not quite so fragile. But
losing our hub means our family wheel will never roll again, not the way
we remembered it. It's strange to think that I have cousins, aunts, and uncles who I'll probably never see again after we sell my grandmother's house... but without her to unite us, what reason will there be for us to seek each other out?
I'd hoped to have something more profound to say about this. But I
don't think I can do it. I miss my grandmother a lot. That's the only
profound thing I can take from this.