When Amy Johnson Crow posted this week’s topic for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, my thoughts went to my mom’s mom, Willie Stevens Cook. She’s one of the strongest women I’ve encountered in my life, but I already wrote about her on this blog.
Instead, I’ll talk to you about her daughter, my mom, Zenova Cook Hahn. She was born in 1937, while the country was still recovering from the Great Depression, and she grew up in Pensacola, Florida, during the war years. One of her early memories was ducking as Navy pilot trainees flew their biplanes overhead. They moved out of state for a short time, and my mother’s strength came out when one of their new neighbors threw water on her little dog and mama yelled at her, “Don’t you throw water on my dog!” The neighbor apologized.
One thing she’s still irate about (and she’s almost 83) is that her dad wouldn’t take her hunting like he did the two boys. She fished and climbed trees and played games with the boys in the neighborhood. She learned to sew to make her own clothes because her grandmother insisted on making everything a couple of sizes too big, so she could grow into it. Mama was so thin she couldn’t even find much that fit her in stores (they have smaller sizes now). I kid her that she should have tried harder to pass down her skinny genes to me.
After she graduated from Pensacola High School in 1954, she took some classes at what was then Pensacola Junior College and worked as a substitute teacher. With both her parents being teachers, she had an “in” to get some long-term jobs subbing at Brentwood Elementary School near her home.
She agreed to go out with my dad, William David Hahn, so he’d stop pestering her. They got engaged. While he was out to sea, his sister asked my mom to go on a double date with her. The boys were cadets at the Navy base, and Aunt Betty’s date could only get the car if he could find a girl for his friend.
Mama ended up dating Tommy for a while and even broke up with my daddy! But, Tommy was a Catholic and he got miffed that she didn’t give daddy his ring back sooner, and anyway, they broke up and my parents got married in 1956.
Daddy had gotten out of the Navy and went to work at St. Regis Paper Company, like his parents and all but one of his brothers (Sidney Marshall Hahn, known as Marty to the family, worked at Monsanto). After a few years, he decided he didn’t want to spend his life in a factory, and he talked to my mom about him going back into the Navy, and that’s what he did.
One of their first duty stations was in Rota, Spain, and they loved it. They traveled the countryside every weekend. My mom got pregnant and wrote back home about it. Then she miscarried. The next time she got pregnant, they kept it secret from everyone back home, so it was a big surprise when they sent home telegrams announcing my birth! Six weeks after I was born, they brought me home to the U.S.
Of course, the Navy life isn’t always easy. Daddy didn’t make much money, but they could usually find someplace to rent that was cheaper than the housing allowance so they’d have that little bit extra. Once my mom had me write out all the checks to pay bills and balance the checkbook so I could see they had less than a dollar left in the bank after everything was paid.
Back then (way back in the 60’s and ’70s), a military wife had to be strong. There were rare phone calls and letters, if daddy’s ship was in port, but most of the time while he was gone, everything was up to mama. She couldn’t send a text or an email about how to handle a problem.
For a while, they had rented out their house in Pensacola, but after some of the renters made a mess of things and stole some things left in storage in the attic, they just closed up the house. Mom and I would come live there sometimes while my dad was out to sea for long stretches.
When daddy was home, they liked to go camping. They had a trailer first. Then mama saw an ad for a new camper at a really good price. Too good, in fact. When she got to the dealership, they told her the price had been printed incorrectly. She sat down in the lobby (with me) and refused to leave until they honored the price. They did.
My parents joined the Good Sam Club, and they both became leaders in local chapters in Charleston and Pensacola. My dad even became assistant state director for Florida.
When I was in about 8th grade, in Charleston, South Carolina, mom started making and selling crafts. She had always made my clothes and done other crafty things but this was the first time she turned it into a business.
She continued to make and sell crafts, and when my dad retired in 1982 and I graduated from high school a few months later, they decided to make a real go of it. My dad made most of the woodcrafts, and my mom made some. She did decorative painting on the wood items, and she crocheted and macraméd (until that went out of fashion). They traveled all over the south and up the east coast selling at craft shows.
They also bought a couple of rental houses right next door to the old homestead, although my mom pretty much let my dad handle everything to do with that.
In the late ’80s, they started opening a temporary store in the local mall during the Christmas season. Then they went full time on a temporary lease (you’d be surprised how much a permanent lease costs at a mall!), but they store closed in ’94 after a couple of hurricanes came through the area and sales fell off.
That was around the time my mom started taking care of her mom, who had dementia. It was a full-time job, especially after Mam-ma became bedridden. A couple of years after Mam-ma died, Pap-pa had a series of strokes and mama also cared for him until his death. In 2004, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and mama also took care of him at home. That all took a toll on her. Just as she was getting back to her old self, she had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic Levaquin. Last year, she was diagnosed with diabetes.
She still lives at home, takes care of her cat, enjoys working in the garden, but nothing is as easy for her now. Some of it’s age. Some, she says, is the lingering effects of the Levaquin.
Throughout her life, or at least throughout my life, she has been a great example of endurance, self-sufficiency, and will power. She may not have given me her skinny genes (darn it!) but she had given me strength and self-confidence. I guess I got the better part of the deal after all.