We regard toughness as a masculine quality, but I know better. Like most guys I spent my younger years thinking I was tough, equating the word with the very physical qualities of sports and labor. As you age you come to know toughness means much more.
And if I happen to represent the word at all, I have a good idea where it comes from.
My grandmother was born in Ransom, Kan., one of 13 children in the family of Fred and Florence Horchem. She, like everyone else in the family, was no stranger to hard work, and that, along with an amazingly independent nature, would define her life.
Grandma Beulah was never scared of getting dirty. Whether it was cooking dinner, tending to the garden or baiting a hook, she literally had her hands in all aspects of what we did. And though the work she did was hard, her spirit never was.
She was funny, something I grew to learn more and more as I got older. I still remember an incident when someone called her house and asked for George.
"He's not here," my grandma told the person who had dialed the wrong number. "He never came home last night."
She still had a valid driver's license at the age of 92, and that allowed her to live on her own in Virden, Ill., while maintaining her independence. Emotionally she was much the same way.
She was a comforting person who gave without ever seeming to need much comforting herself. If she was hurting, you'd be hard pressed to know. She didn't belie emotions like that, and never wanted to be a bother. She saw her role as taking care of others, not vice versa.
That continued into her waning years. I can't tell you how awkward it is to be a grown man and have a woman in her 90s serve you breakfast. But the only worse thing would have been telling her she couldn't. That is who she was, and she was always true to herself.
There is not enough space to share all the good times I had with her. It would take a book. But she loved to talk about University of Illinois basketball, the NBA (yes, even in her 90s she would tell me about Kobe and Shaq and her other favorites) and enjoyed an occasional shot of whiskey.
But for all the good times, and Lord there were a lot, there was plenty of heartache. And the way she handled it showed a toughness I doubt I can ever live up to. She was preceded in death by six brothers and six sisters. Two husbands. Her only child. Never once did any of us see her cry.
My dad's death was the toughest. She and my father had an incredible bond, one forged from him being born while my grandfather served in World War II. Money was tight (to visit grandma's sisters in a neighboring town they hopped a ride in the mail truck) but they had family, and more than anything they had each other.
Through my dad's battle with cancer she was always concerned, but strong. And though his death was devastating, she remained a rock. The last card she sent me referred to his upcoming birthday. She told me to enjoy it, her optimism showing through again.
This woman, who had painful arthritis in her shoulders and knees so bad that her walk was more like a hop, said in the last line of the card: "I'm doing OK." To the end it was the same message: Don't worry about me.
Beulah E. Wilcox died on April 3 and we laid her to rest this past Saturday. She was an amazing lady, the toughest person I've ever known.
Email Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.