Dolly Armstrong Grace is my mother. She was born 1928 on the dawn of the great depression. She was known as Dolly Dot by her friends and family. Her childhood was filled with hunger and fear made worse by the death of her beloved father who died in a coal mining accident. When you worked for the coal mining company they own nearly every home in town so when my grandfather died, grandma and her 7 kids were almost immediately put out on the street. Even though the economy was improving by 1937, things were not much better for the Armstrong family.
My mother and her six siblings were out on the street shortly after her father’s death. None of the boys were old enough to work in the mines so they had no money coming in to pay for even the basics. My mom said that her mother would often show up at extended family members’ homes on holidays unannounced.” Mom remembered how ashamed she felt to have her mother do that. I knew even as a child that they did not want us there.” She suffered medical problems secondary to poor diet the rest of her life.
My mom married and lived many years with an abusive husband. She spent several years caring for her second husband as his health declined. Her few short years of independence came to a sudden end when her oldest son was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. She spent 12 years caring for him in her own home. She never again attended a graduation or visited her children or grandchildren because she was so tied to caring for son. She made the best of what she could do by sending gifts, clothes, cards and letters.
Her story is interesting because of what she suffered, but what makes her remarkable is her enduring spirit. She told me once that she got through her darkest days by seeking out and looking for something good in each day. She was often up early caring for my brother. She would take the time each day to watch the sunrise or set and let the beauty of it nourish her soul. On some days that was all she could find to comfort her but she never stopped looking for and appreciating the blessing that came her way daily. That attitude carried her through many trials and gave a relentless optimism about people and life. She loves people and has always had an open heart to those around her.
Mom suffered a stroke several years ago and has some aphasia. This has not stopped her from visiting those she calls less fortunate in the nursing home where she lives. “Everyone needs to be listened to and loved.” She explained to me recently. Even with a stroke, that loving unconquerable spirit still shines brightly. Here is a woman who has had much suffering throughout her life, yet finds joy in each day. What a remarkable example she is for all of us.
Donna Grace-Anderson is the daughter of Dolly Armstrong Grace. Donna born in the coal mining community of McDowell County, back in the mountains of West Virginia. She has gathered and preserved many memories of her mother’s life growing up as the daughter and wife of West Virginia coal miners.