Our learning must be seasoned before it can be put to use in full effectiveness. Experience has its lessons to impart and we will profit by them. Struggle and stress and strife will give the fiber which is the basis of character, and that we my not be lacking in humility less adversity come upon us. So we set forth for our work in the world not blindly, but hopefully, not carelessly, but with seriousness of purpose, resolved to give our best to the struggle which is life. Each in her own particular task will render service in accordance with her natural endowments plus learning.
Those were the marching orders given to Mercy Hospital’s graduating class of nurses in 1933 by the valedictorian. It’s a visionary statement of purpose the likes of which fill books of famous quotations. But this quote wasn’t uttered by a statesman or actor or author. It was written, and delivered, by my grandma. And until my uncle worked with an archivist at Mercy Hospital to pull together an alumni display, I’d never seen it before. I didn’t even know she was valedictorian.
Born in Toledo, August 22, 1912, Helen Marie Weissenberger was the youngest of six children. In 1930, she entered nurses training at Mercy hospital. After graduation, she went on to work for two OB/GYN physicians. She was also a nurse with the American Red Cross.
These facts and more, part of an exhibit at the hospital, made their way to me via email from my Dad. Reading through them I realized how little I know about my grandma. And they’re all I have left. She died when I was a young woman.
How I wish now that I had taken time to ask her about her life. She was always just grandma. The loving woman with the immaculate house and wonderful tin of cookies in her kitchen cupboard. I didn’t appreciate till just last week that she was once a woman like I am now: a mother of three young children with dreams and aspirations, some realized, some shelved for the greater good of her family. It’s a gift to have this memoir of her life. I see much of myself in her story and am reminded how much I am a product of my family.
If your grandparents are still living, don’t miss another opportunity to ask them about their youth. What was it like to date and marry back when they were in their 20s? What were their kids — your parents — like when they were babies and little kids? What’s changed since then? What’s the same? If you can get it, their story, your heritage, is one Christmas gift worth asking for.