Grandma Helen: “Life Was Very Simple.”

Recently I talked about Grandma Helen’s years in the orphanage as part of  “The Grandparent’s Series”, which I am doing throughout the month of March. Today, in this last report on Helen,  she talks about work, parenting, and how she wants to be remembered.

On Work:  “Back then, about the only thing a woman could be was a teacher or a nurse.”

Helen’s first job was in a dime store, where she did bookkeeping. “I stayed many a night finishing the books until 12 midnight, and I never got extra money for that.”   She said her best job was at Battelle Memorial Institute, a metallurgical research company connected with Ohio State University.   “That job was the first place I worked that gave me vacation and sick leave.  Every year I could take off a whole month.”    And she liked the people.  “Very educated people worked there,” she says. 

Helen also did a stint as a teacher.  “I didn’t care much for that.”  In her day, “girls weren’t offered much.  The only thing you could be was a teacher or a nurse.”

Sick During Pregnancies

Helen was sick throughout all three of her pregnancies.  “I couldn’t eat anything.  I weighed only 93 pounds.  That was the only time in my life I was thin, other than now.  But now being thin does me no good,” she quips.  Health care costs were not a problem.  Carol Gay and younger brother James were born in a Ohio State “teaching” hospital where medical students didn’t have to pay for care. 

Carol Gay in 1939, at age three. (My mother).  Helen sent this picture to a children’s beauty pageant.

On Being A Parent

Helen’s youngest son Steve was born in 1947.  Shortly thereafter Clyde, who was in the Navy, was transferred to Guam, and the family moved.  Helen remembers Steve being terrible on the trip.  “All the Navy people were ready to throw him off the plane,” she laughs. 

Carol, Jimmy and baby Steve in 1947.

Here’s another photo of the three siblings, taken in 1956.

As a parent, Helen is most proud of several things.  “Carol went to school and became a nurse and it wasn’t easy for her.”  At 22, Carol married Ben Gibbs and had three children, Cheri, Laurie, and Kenny. 

“My son Jimmy was a really good swimmer.  He started swimming when we lived in Hawaii.  There was a big pool and whoever was in charge thought he was better than the other kids.  I spent half my life carpooling him to swim meets, but his hard work earned him a spot in the Olympic Trials.  He didn’t make it to the Olympics, but the trials were a good experience.”   

More Heartache

Sadly, both Carol and Jimmy passed away in the 1960s.  But Helen is not one to focus on the sad times.  She is grateful for her youngest child Steve, who amazes her.  “When he was 11 or 12 he was awful, always getting into trouble.  I was forever running to the principal’s office!  But he turned into a really good person, and he and his wife Susan take very good care of me.”

Steve and Susan with Helen, on her 96th birthday last year, March 11, 2009

Just an “Ordinary Person”

When asked about the one thing she wants people to remember about her, Helen says, “I’m just an ordinary person.  I did nothing earth shattering and I had no big accomplishments, other than my full academic scholarship to Wittenberg.” 


Helen, now 97,  has four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. 

Helen’s sister Pauline, granddaughter Laurie, granddaughter Cheri (me, of course!) and Helen in 2006


Bee Gibbs and Helen Norman with a few of their great-grandchildren, December, 1993

In thinking about how life today is different from when she was a child, she says, “It’s very different.   There’s all this electronics stuff, and we can talk to people all around the world.  When I was a child we couldn’t even imagine such a thing.”

“Life was very simple.”

I hope you enjoyed Grandma Helen’s life story. In future blog posts as part of the “Grandparents’ Series”, I will be featuring my dad, Benjamin Franklin Gibbs, Jr., and my mother-in-law, Paula La Sala Myers. I hope you will tune in!


Filed under Family, Grandparents, Parenting, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Grandma Helen: “Life Was Very Simple.”

  1. Trey Gibbs

    Hi Cheri,

    Your blog is very interesting! It is really cool that you are doing this!!


    • Thanks Trey! It means alot to me that you like it; I hope the stories can be saved this way and we can have them for many years . . . the “generational tree” through the computer! LOL!

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