Mostly factual story inspired by the life of my grandmother
| Francine Byrne lived a fascinating life. She experienced a lot of hardship but still managed to keep her faith and make a difference in the world. She never let obstacles stop her from doing what she wanted to do.
She was born November 5, 1923 to parents descended from Irish immigrants who likely came to America during the Potato Famine of the mid-19th century. Her parents raised her Catholic. Her father was a vegetable farmer and passed away when she was eleven. She had several siblings, including a baby sister who passed away in infancy and a brother who died in an accident in his early teens. She also had other siblings who outlived her.
When she was a young girl, she played in a field. She saw something interesting on the ground and decided to touch it. Unbeknownst to her, it was a dynamite cap. She heard a deafening explosion and passed out.
Some time later, she awoke in a hospital bed and looked at the hand that touched the dynamite cap. It was gone, with bandages wrapped around where it had been. Wiping tears from her eyes at the realization that she would have to go through life with only one hand, she resolved not to let it limit or define her. Grandma developed the habit of wearing a cloth over her stump. Some knew her for months before realizing she only had one hand.
One night, at a swing dance, a handsome young sailor approached her seat. "Would you like to dance?" he asked.
"I would love to." The sailor took her existing hand and they danced for a couple songs, adapting to the fact that the other was gone but not allowing it to stop the dance. "I'm Francine. What is your name?"
"David Byrne. Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," said Grandma. "I take it from your uniform that you are a sailor?"
"Correct," he answered. "I'm in the navy. You seem like a pretty swell girl. Would you like to go to dinner sometime?"
"I would love that."
Grandpa David and Grandma Francine went on a plethora of dates. One evening, David invited her to the top of a mountain to watch the sunset. Just before the sun went down, he got down on one knee. "Francine, will you marry me?"
"Of course, David!" The two embraced.
They married in 1942 and had four sons. The third son eventually became my father. According to him, most people who knew the couple liked them. Grandma tried to raise her sons Catholic as her parents raised her, yet most of them didn't accept it.
One night, their second son smoked in bed and started a house fire. That same son rescued his baby brother, my dad, from the flames and later became a volunteer firefighter. Everyone got out safely, but because of this and another house fire, all photos of the family burned. To this day there are no known photos of Grandma or her sons while they were young.
There were plenty of other instances where the family narrowly averted disaster. Grandma claimed it was because she named all of her sons after two saints. My father says it's the work of a family angel.
Grandpa fought in WWII, in the Battle of Lete Gulf. After leaving the Navy, he took odd jobs and the family moved to wherever he could find work. Their travels took them to Hawaii and California, as well as other locales.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Grandma went to Kenya to teach English. She returned home in October 1974 for my parents' wedding.
Ten years later, my parents prepared for their first child. "We're having a baby," they told Grandma one day.
"It's going to be a girl," said Grandma Francine with conviction.
"Ok, whatever," said my mom.
Months later, my parents prepared for the birth, convinced they were having a son. The baby arrived in September 1984 and, to their surprise, was indeed a girl.
Grandma was right! However, she was gone by then. She passed six months prior, on March 7, from ovarian or uterine cancer. She had been buried on March 10 in her home city in Washington.
As Francine's grandchild, I have always admired how she didn't let her disability stop her from leading a full and productive life. I lament the fact I never got to meet her or my grandfather. I wish she were still around to teach me about Catholicism, even though I am Lutheran. Lutheranism is directly descended from Catholicism, so the more I know about it, the more I know about my own faith.
I believe she will be there to welcome me into Heaven someday.