By Mary Groenewoud Hale

I have fond memories of my iron butterfly grandmother, Cornelia Lievense Groenewoud, sitting in her chair knitting.  She was always doing something with her hands: knitting, crocheting, darning socks, or sewing.  She even made the men in our family ties one year for Christmas!

Grandma was a feisty woman.  She grew up on her family’s farm in Western Michigan and knew the value of hard work.  Her mother died when she was just 7 years old, so she was raised by her older sister.  After marrying, she and my grandfather had their own farm when Grandfather died at the age of 32 from the flu epidemic. 

My dad was two years old when Grandma became a widow, and she only had an eighth-grade education.  What could a woman do in the early years of the 20thcentury to support herself and her child?   Many young people were coming off the farms even then, so she decided to keep boarders.  The house she owned was dilapidated so she scraped and saved and ordered a Sears Roebuck home that came in on the railway which was close to her house.  The house had all the joists marked so it could be put together on the lot. She and her nieces stained all the woodwork themselves.  The house even had a garage.  Now Grandmother did not have a car, but some of her boarders did.  And she had to be ready.  The house was two stories with an upstairs apartment.  That same house, built in 1929, was the house I grew up in.  I visited the house a few years ago and it is in the historic district of Holland, Michigan, and known as the Groenewoud house. Imagine how proud Grandmother would be if she knew that!

When he became old enough, my dad spent every summer at the family farm.  That way Grandmother could hire herself out to Lake Michigan cottage dwellers from Chicago.  She became a housekeeper during the summer months. 

My dad worked in a grocery store to put himself through college.  Fortunately, we had a college in our town, so he did not have to pay for room and board; only tuition.  Imagine Grandmother’s excitement when her only son graduated from college in 1938!

After Dwight and I married, Grandmother visited us at every Air Force base.  You had better have your projects laid out when she came, or she would find some projects!  She made layettes for babies at our church, cleaned out the linen closet, helped make curtains, knitted mittens and caps and a special cabled cape which I still wear.  She even repaired a drawer that our dog chewed when a pup.  She could do anything!

There is a saying “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” That is how I feel when I think of my grandmother.  She was always there for me growing up and she taught me the value of being independent and resourceful.  Thanks a million, Grandma!  You were a true iron butterfly.  I love you!

Mary Groenewoud Hale is a retired Reading Specialist, who worked with children having difficulties learning to read.  She was one of two lead teachers in the Northside Independent School District’s Reading Recovery Program for 15 of her 30 years. It was a rewarding and innovative experience enabling first graders to read successfully.

She graduated from the University of South Florida where she met Dwight, her husband of 51 years.  She followed him for 21 of those years while he was in the Air Force.  They moved nine times and finally settled in San Antonio.  Mary enjoys her neighborhood and church book clubs, playing bridge, and working with children at church in the Godly Play program.  She and her husband enjoy an active travel schedule.

This is a picture of Mary in a cape made by her grandmother.

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