Generation to generation: Life#039;s lessons passed to grandchildren

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005

Ramona Martin grew up an Air Force "brat," living in exotic destinations around the world. But the spot she always dreamed of coming back to was Alabama, to Honoraville, where her mother had grown up.

"That's where the people I loved most were - my grandmother, Nell Hicks, and my great uncle and great aunt, John Snow and Mollie Lou Hicks," she says.

Trips "back home" meant visits to Tucker's country store, playing church in the Methodist Lodge, and learning how to use a needle and thread well enough to have "the best dressed doll in two counties."

"Sewing was a love my grandmother and I shared until she died," Ramona says.

Her grandfather Hicks died a short time after her parent's marriage. It was her granddaddy Myers, her step-grandfather, who would later teach Ramona how to drive in his huge Impala, driving big stakes into the ground to assist her in parallel parking.

"I learned from him that it doesn't matter if you are related by blood or related by marriage. He wasn't a big man in size, but he was a big man in every other way that counted," she recalls.

Her grandparents' unconditional love and acceptance have been a guiding light for Ramona throughout the years. Even as she struck out on her own, first serving in the Air Force during Vietnam, then becoming an Albuquerque sheriff's deputy, she carried with her the lessons they taught.

At 33, Ramona married a young widower, a fellow law enforcement officer named Garry Martin.

Garry had two children, making Ramona an "instant mom," a role she took to heart.

"I used the sewing and cooking skills my grandmother taught me to create a home for my new family," Ramona says.

Following her son's marriage, she became a grandmother at 36 and "reveled in every aspect of it."

Ramona adored her two granddaughters, Victoria and Mercedes, and found it heart-wrenching when she and Garry left them behind for the move to Alabama.

Soon, her stepson and his family, including newest addition, Taylor, moved to Greenville and "my happiness was complete."

Even though her stepson's marriage eventually fell apart, Ramona is grateful her relationship with her grandchildren has not.

"My former daughter-in-law made sure we were involved in all aspects of the girls' lives, from school activities and church, to birthdays and vacations."

The Martins also devised an ingenious summer camp, "Camp Martin," just for the family's youngsters, with activities, excursions and lots of play time.

"Victoria and Taylor wanted to learn how to sewŠmy niece Brianna wanted to learn how to cook, so I broke out Granny's cookbook.

It was so moving to teach my granddaughters how to sew. My grandmother taught me how to sew, and her grandmother taught her," Ramona says.

Later, Diego and his sister Jessie joined the growing group of grandchildren, along with their cousin De, the son of Garry and Ramona's daughter.

De spent many hours at his grandparents' house, and gradually came to live with them full time.

"There were family problems - and for a while we felt very isolated, as if we were the only ones in the world going through the difficulties we faced," Ramona admits.

However, she quickly discovered, via the Internet, "thousand of grandparents who are living their golden years changing diapers and attending PTA meetings."

"Here in Greenville, we found Father Fred Lindstrom, who proved to be a lifesaver, along with a wonderful support system through our church, St.

Thomas Episcopal," Ramona says.

Today, their days are filled with schoolwork, homework, field trips, football practice and "all the things that come with raising a boy."

Instead of a trip to the Bahamas, the Martins took their grandchildren to Disney World and Universal Studios in a 35-foot trailer.

Garry's putting off his retirement a little longer and Ramona skips having her nails done at a salon. After all, they have a college education to save for.

Sure, there are some things they've given up, but the rewards are worth it, Ramona says.

"There are days we are so tired, just putting one foot in front of the other is an effort. But there are also days when the smile on De's face when we show up at an awards ceremony erases any doubt about this path we've chosen," she says with a smile.

Filling a parent's shoes as a grandparent is no easy task.

"It is a tough job. But what we lack in energy we make up for in patience. And I couldn't do it with the unfailing support of my husband," Ramona says.

These days, she heartily embraces the role of homemaker.

"I am past the resentments of a young person wanting a career of her own. I've been there and done that, played those non-traditional roles – and now I am happy being a 'mom' and grandmother, sharing the things my grandparents shared with me," Ramona says.

"Each and every one of our grandchildren is special and I've tried to pass on the lessons I learned from my grandparents and those who stepped in to fill the roll, Snow and Lou Hicks," she says.

It seems her efforts are paying off.

The Martins' granddaughter Mercedes recently called about a school assignment.

"She told me she had chosen to write about her grandfather and me as her heroes, because she said we taught her about the important things and that we were always there for her.

That's the way I felt about my own grandparents," Ramona says.

"I think that's the most wonderful thing any grandparent could hope for."