I was so excited to see #HappyBirthdayGrandma was an existing hashtag on both Facebook and Instagram when I had occasion to use it this week. People are posting about their grandmas’ happy birthdays! What a great use of social media, right?
My Grandma turned 91 years old this week. She had three days of celebrations, as the family gathered to have cake on birthday-eve, before I took her for birthday lunch and a special outing at her request on her actual birthday. Then the day after was our weekly #GrandmaDay, so she came for lunch and we sang happy birthday again and polished off the birthday cake together.
That’s 91 candles, y’all.
My sweet Grandma. Grandma is a caretaker. Grandma has spent her life taking care of her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and now even her great-grandchildren. In her younger years she worked as a lunch lady at the elementary school down the street and served in the Primary at church, caring for the children of her neighborhood and congregation. She had a way with numbers, and in her time she knew the birthdays of every one of the 50 or so kids she served at church. When Grandpa’s health started to fail, she cared for him, too. And now, because she cared for us, we care for her.
As she has gotten older and lost her beloved husband, her heart has turned to things not of this world. I would even say she is looking forward to returning “home” and reuniting with Grandpa, and with her 10 brothers and sisters, with parents and grandparents, all of whom have passed on. Her heart has always been turned to those who came before her. She has told us family history stories since before I knew who or what she was talking about. The names and stories of her parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were written on my heart during the elementary school summers I spent with her.
And this week, on her birthday, Grandma wanted to go visit the resting places of those people she still holds so dear. So I dropped off the little ones at school and preschool and we headed for the cemetery.
First we visited her grandparents, Emma Higbee and Henry Clay Rogers.
Emma and Henry married in Provo, Utah, in 1856, two weeks before Emma’s 20th birthday. They had nine children while living in Utah, and then after 20 years of marriage they were asked by Brigham Young to bring their family south and create a new settlement in Arizona. They came to Lehi, Arizona (now part of Mesa) in 1878, helped build a new community, and made a home. Their last two children were born in Arizona.
Henry and Emma’s last child was a little girl, Hester Caroline “Caddie” Rogers. She grew up in their desert community near the Salt River, east of the little town of Phoenix. She helped her mother in the house during the week and went to church on Sunday. She watched her father build their little town with the help of the local Indians, whom he often invited into their home for meals and gospel discussions. The garden was small but somehow Mother and Caddie were always able to scrape together a good enough supper for whoever gathered around their table.
In her teenage years Caddie met a boy from Mesa, Henry “Cobb” Watkins, whom she later married. Intent on marrying in a Mormon temple, they traveled with two other couples on their own version of the “Honeymoon Trail” from Mesa to Los Angeles, where they caught a train to Salt Lake City. They married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1905, when Caddie was 23 years old. They returned to Mesa and started their own family. Like her Mother before her, Caddie had 11 children.
This is Caddie and Henry’s last baby, Number Eleven, their caboose, on her 91st birthday:
She was born in Arizona, but the family left seeking work in California when she was only six months old. They traveled through California following Henry’s employment opportunities, as he fixed the fruit sorting machines behind the seasonal workers. After two years of this sort of work, Caddie insisted they settle somewhere so her children could get a proper education. On their way back to Arizona they stopped to visit an ailing family member in Blanding, Utah, and were talked into settling there for a while.
My Grandma spent most of her childhood in Blanding before returning to Mesa and graduating from Mesa High School. After finishing her education in 1943, she went to work at the Air Force base outside of town, where she met a handsome young cowboy and stole his heart. He never remembered how many times he asked her to marry him before she finally said yes — but one day she did, and now here we are.
This little one has seen 91 years on this earth, 63 years of marriage, three children, eight grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren (so far). She has sent seven of us on missions around the world and seen six graduate college (so far). She has visited all 50 states and most of the Canadian provinces. She has shown us an enduring example of faith and patience and kindness, and we love her. We all just love her.
So, #HappyBirthdayGrandma. Thanks for sharing it with us.