Grandma is my heroine


Today’s prompt: Everyone has someone they look up to – a person they go to for advice, an individual you admire or idolize. It could be your partner, a family member, coworker, or someone famous. Who are they and what makes them awesome in your eyes?


grandmaMy heroine was born on May 14th, 1901 and left this earth on January 11th, 1996 at 94 years old. Ella Faye (McClellan) Elder was my paternal grandmother and the most amazing and generous person I’ve ever met. She was also a Migraineur. Since my own mother had never experienced a Migraine attack, I turned to Grandma for advice and understanding. She taught me about stress management, trigger identification, and how to recognize the signs early enough to stop the attack long before the creation of Imitrex or Excedrin Migraine. She was truly a woman before her time.

I adored Grandma for more than just her Migraine experience. She told the most amazing stories! Her kindness and generosity earned her respect and love well beyond the family. But she was no pushover. Standing just 4 foot 9 inches (thanks to advanced spinal degeneration from osteoporosis), she was a force to be reckoned with. You dare not cross her. No matter how mature you thought you were, crossing Grandma just might bring down a  switch on your backside. And heaven forbid you wait too long to visit! When you finally showed your sorry face, Grandma would serve up a dressing down to rival the meanest drill sergeant. Then she would invite you to sit on her lap for a hug, a kiss, and an “I love you.”

In my young eyes, she was larger than life. She married a tall, lanky young man, Thomas Landon Elder. They were 15 and 17 when they married on February 3, 1917.  Can you imagine getting married as teenagers and staying madly in love until the day you die? That is precisely the love story of my Grandma and Grandpa.

My Uncle Jimmy
The hero uncle and
fellow Migraineur I
never met. Yeoman
2nd Class, James
Edward Elder

They faced challenges that would tear apart most couples today. After all, they were teenagers in the middle of World War I. As newlyweds, they face the Influenza epidemic of 1918. Throughout the roaring 20s, Prohibition, Great Depression, World War II, the Koran War, and the Vietnam conflict, they raised a family. This tiny little lady home birthed and breastfed all fourteen children. The first was born in January 1918 when she was only 16 years old. The youngest was born 31 years later in January 1949. She was 47 years old. That alone, makes her a heroine in my book.

One of their children, Grace, died in infancy. Another, James (the family called him Jimmy), was lost in World War II when his submarine, the USS Flier, sank in the South Pacific after being attacked by a Japanese submarine. Jimmy and Grace were born just 14 months apart. Grace died of an infectious disease as a toddler.  She and James must have played together. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of losing a child, let alone two who were so close in age. My grandparents received the news of Jimmy’s death by telegram according to military policy of the day. I can’t even imagine that. Yet even through the death of two children (a tragedy that tears most couples apart), Ella and Tom’s love held them together. The surviving twelve children went on to raise families of their own and pass on the legacy of kindness and generosity, plus a fierce loyalty to family. In case you’re trying to do the math, my father was 13th child, born in 1946.

You can learn more about PO2 Elder and his heroic shipmates from The USS Flier Project documentary or by reading The USS Flier: Death and Survival on a World War II Submarine.

Castle MacLellan in Kirkcudbright, Scotland
Our ancestral home:
Castle MacLellan in
Kirkcudbright, Scotland

In tribute to Ella’s memory, I have become somewhat of a genealogy buff. She is descended from Clan MacLellan, whose earliest reference is found in the 1217 charter of King Alexander of Scotland. One of our clan members. Sir Robert MacLellan of Bombie, fought with William Wallace. It seems that fighting for freedom runs in our family much farther back than I ever realized.

MacLellan tartan

Because of my research, I have recently been introduced to hundreds of distantly related cousins. Clan MacLellan is a small but proud Scottish clan, currently without a leader. You can meet some of my cousins at Scottish festivals, Highland Games, and similar events. Just look for the Clan MacLellan tent and all men and women decked out our blue and green tartan. It’s really amazing how much we have in common. Traits I thought came only from Grandma have really been passed down for centuries. I wish she were here to see photos of our ancestral home in Scotland, the beautiful blue, green, and red tartan, and family crest. She would be thrilled to hear the stories of our ancestors and amazed by the technology of the Internet that made it possible.

Photo taken in 1990 at the Navy Ball, NATTC Millington, Tennessee
Photo taken in 1990
at the Navy Ball,
NATTC Millington,

I also discovered that my Grandpa is descended from Scottish royalty even more than Grandma. I was able to trace his ancestry back to King Malcolm III of Scotland who ruled from 1058 to 1093. Additionally, I found hundreds of McClellans and Elders listed on the service rolls of the Revolutionary War (all on the side of the Colonies) and Civil War (all Union, of course), and every war from the Spanish-American War right up to modern-day Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It’s a family tradition that I followed with my Navy service from 1990 – 1994.

I miss her so much.  One of the last times I saw her before she passed away I spent the day with her and gave her a luxurious facial and manicure. She had never received that kind of pampering. In my mind, she deserved so much more. She sat there in silence with a ornery grin on her face and eyes that sparkled with love.  The nursing home staff kept coming in to the room to check on our progress. They couldn’t believe that a family member would take the time to show such love. But I am not the only one who loved her that much. She has hundreds of other grandchildren who love her just as much. We love her because she always loved us unconditionally.

I remember the day she went home to Heaven. I was at work when my mom called with the news. I didn’t think. I just jumped into action, first calling my husband, then booking a flight home. Surrounded by loved ones, they insisted that I give the eulogy at Grandma’s funeral. I despised the minister who would be officiating her funeral and interment. He had behaved horribly at Grandpa’s funeral, using it as an opportunity to increase his church’s attendance and implying that most of my family were going to hell. I was determined to override anything he might say by giving a eulogy that would leave no doubt Grandma was in Heaven with Grandpa and Jesus. It was my final act of protecting her reputation and memory.

Sure, Grandma was a little crazy (aren’t we all), but she loved everyone with such fierceness that there was no mistaking she deserved a Heavenly afterlife. If I can be half the woman my Grandma was, then my life will be successful.

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