From The Archives: Gran

Lucille Barton Haskell Houston was born on this date 110 years ago in Erlanger, KY, the eighth and final child of Frederick B. and Elizabeth L. Haskell. She had four sisters and three brothers. In 1927, she was valedictorian of a graduating class of size six, from Erlanger High School. A few months later, she married Wilbur Houston, a medical student in Cincinnati. Over the next six years, they had three daughters; my mother was the middle child.

When my grandfather joined the Army to serve as a physician during WWII, Gran kept the household running (at first it didn’t look like Papaw would be sent overseas, so the family relocated briefly to Texas, where he was stationed—they headed right back to Kentucky after he received his orders to go to the Pacific Theater), including arranging the purchase of their first house. She was heavily involved in the fabric of life in Erlanger and surrounding communities for decades: a lifelong member of Erlanger Christian Church, a frequent officer in the Erlanger Women’s Club, and extensive work with a physicians’ wives’ auxiliary.

I was the eighth of her ten grandchildren, so she was well-practiced in the art by the time I was old enough to notice. My sister and I were fortunate that they lived close to us throughout our youth—our years in Stanford overlapped with those my grandfather served as the Director of Medical Services at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, and they returned to their farmhouse in Union soon after we had moved to Walton. (Many of my older cousins were similarly blessed—they love to reminisce about their experiences with Gran and Papaw in the mid-50s to mid-60s.) Among the fondest memories I have growing up are holiday afternoons spent with my grandparents and extended family.

They moved back to Erlanger in 83, to a house adjacent to and owned by the church, just before my grandfather became ill and passed away. Gran lived there about a decade; afterward, she managed to spend all but her last couple of months in an assisted living facility. She died in March 2001 at age 91, not long after her thirteenth great-grandchild, my son, arrived on the scene.

A couple of quick stories from my adult years:
–My grandmother never learned to drive; after my grandfather developed macular degeneration, she became reliant on daughters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends for rides. The most memorable time I had out with her probably occurred in the late 80s. She’d always wanted to visit the observation deck at the top of Carew Tower (completed in the early 30s), then the tallest building in Cincinnati. I was the lucky one to take her when she achieved that dream.
–One of Gran’s greatest abilities while in her presence was to make you feel like you were the center of her universe. Every gift she received at birthdays or Christmas was “exactly what I wanted.” While I was job-hunting in 92, she needed to undergo a pretty serious heart surgery, and was still recovering in the hospital when my offer from Georgetown came through. I wanted her to be among the very first to know. When I leaned over her bed to tell her about it in a semi-conspiratorial fashion, she whispered back, “I knew this was going to happen for you.”

I know my many cousins, first- and second-, once- or twice removed, could fill hours with tales based on their time spent with my grandmother (and she was a great storyteller herself).

Gran’s persistently upbeat outlook on life, even in the face of more than occasional adversity, reminds me that I have much for which I should be grateful. I was incredibly fortunate to have her in my life for 37 years.

This photo, taken in her final year, sits on top a bookcase in a room on the main floor of our house.

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