Have you ever met a trailblazer? I have. Her name is Theda, but I call her Grandma.
Theda Plumb was born in southern Arizona. At sixteen, she left her small town and moved to Tucson to study civil engineering. Grandma was often the only women in her classes. Back then, University of Arizona had a rule that female students had to wear a skirt or a dress when they walked around campus. As an engineering student, Grandma had labs and surveying classes that were outside in the hot sun with lots of bending and lifting. Pants were more practical than a skirt. Grandma had to get a special permission letter from the Dean of Women to wear pants. In fact, she was stopped a few times by the campus police and asked to show proof that she was allowed to wear pants.
While at college, Theda met and fell in love with George Shelley. They got married. World War II started, and George went into the Navy. Grandma Theda worked as an engineer. After the war, Grandma lost her engineering job. The country was no longer interested in hiring female engineers. Her young family needed money though, so Grandma got a job as a seamstress to help put her husband through school. Tragically, Grandpa George was killed in a car accident shortly after finishing medical school.
Grandma was left with six children to raise under the age of 8. She was able to find work as an engineer and began to build and design in the Phoenix area. Eventually, Grandma met and married a dairy rancher named Louis Adams. He had three kids from his first marriage. My Dad has all kinds of crazy stories about the joys and the difficulties of combining two families. Grandma enjoyed projects. I don’t ever remember visiting her without a project going on somewhere in her house. She always had a project to work on whether it was a quilt, canning, learning Spanish, helping someone from church or a business endeavor.
I have wonderful childhood memories of Grandma. I am also blessed to have some adult memories. During my first semester of college, I made a point to stop by Grandma’s house several times each week on my way home from school. She would tell me stories and then I’d ask her questions that my parents would have called “very rude” had they been there. They weren’t there though so I went ahead and asked things like this. “Which husband did you like more?” and “Did you ever do anything that really messed up your kids?” I think about it now and shake my head at some of my youthful questions. Some of them were probably rude. Grandma was a good sport and would answer my questions.
Over the years, I’ve thought about Grandma’s answer to the husband question. She said, “Love is wonderful. It’s also complicated and messy. Marriage is good. It’s also complicated and messy. I enjoyed both of my marriages. I loved George very much. He was my heart and soul. I loved Louis too. He brought joy and good things into my life and into the lives of my children. You’re young, Amee. When you have more experience as a women, you’ll understand that I don’t have to answer that question. I just need to love and be loved”.
It’s been 20 years since that conversation with Grandma in her kitchen. My life is good. It’s also complicated and messy. I’m still discovering the questions in my life that I don’t have to answer. Grandma was right though about love. Sometimes the answer is as simple and as complex as love and be loved.
Theda, my awesome Grandma, was a Wonder Women.
(I think we look a little alike.)