I’ve been blessed with some pretty terrific relatives. (And a few that are not so terrific, but I digress.) High on my list of super-grandmothers is my Dad’s mother, Susan Raifsnyder Shirey. Her grandchildren called her Mimi.
Mimi was born on Dec. 21, 1894 in Clarion County, PA. to David Whitehill Raifsnyder and Iola Blanche Jones. The family moved to Jenks Township in Forest County, PA. when she was two years old. She was the oldest of five living children and was the first person in her family to go to college. She graduated from Clarion State Normal School in 1914 and taught elementary school in Forest County, PA. for several years. When she married Leland D. Shirey in 1917, school board rules said she had to quit teaching. But, having eight children born in 17 years, kept her pretty busy raising children, running a household, gardening, and canning vegetables. But, she still found time to write poetry and short stories and to write letters to editors of newspapers and politicians.
But, as she got older, I like to think her 27 grandchildren kept her young. She had a vivid imagination and a wealth of knowledge. Did you want to know about the flowers growing in her garden? She could tell you each of them and all the legends and folklore that came with that particular flower. In the mood for a ghost story? She could tell a bunch of old spooky stories.
Most of the older grandchildren knew about a special place on the farm called Mimi’s Island. At least once every summer, when we got to her house, she would ask if we would like to go on a picnic to the island. Mimi would pack a lunch, and off we would go, walking behind the farmhouse, down past the outhouse and eventually, after taking off our shoes and socks, wading across a big river to Mimi’s Island. We would explore the island, moving aside the undergrowth, not sure of what could be on the other side. Sometimes we brought books to read or she would bring along a book to read to us as we sat on a blanket eating our lunch. Some of us were fortunate enough to be introduced to classical literature as children while visiting Mimi’s Island.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was an adult and Mimi was gone, that I went looking for Mimi’s Island again. I walked behind the old farmhouse, down past the outhouse and then l came – not to a river, but to a wee little stream that I now could easily step across – onto Mimi’s Island. It’s amazing how children’s imaginations can grow with a good teacher.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mimi!