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Woman raises two granddaughters following their mother's death
Three women have a unique connection
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Emma Corrine Edge, left, sits with her granddaughters Sasha Edge, center, and Heather Head. Edge and her husband raised the girls after their mother’s death in 1998. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Lessons learned at grandma’s house during the weekend

As the mother of four children, with nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, Sylvia Lester, 89, of Gainesville said she’s “well recognized” on Mother’s Day.

While her grandchildren were young, Lester took care of them each weekend.

Lester, 89, said she kept the children in a routine while she watched them. Saturdays were marked by a trip to Taco Bell and then to see a movie. Sundays were spent at church.

Joanna Lester Pethel, 36, of Gainesville said those trips to her grandmother’s house made a tremendous impact on her. Lester taught her everything from how to cook string beans to the importance of prayer.

Now that Pethel is a mother herself — she has three sons younger than 12 — she often turns to Lester for advice.

“I look to her for answers with just everything really,” Lester said. “She’s a godly woman for sure. She always has that aspect when you’re talking to her. She says ‘Do you need to pray about it?’”

Pethel said she appreciated her grandmother’s “old school” advice on marriage and raising children.

“Sometimes she’s straightforward,” Pethel said, laughing. “She’s not always nice about it.”

Pethel said she wants to instill “old-fashioned values” into her children and hopes they’ll continue sharing the lessons she learned from her grandmother’s house.

Lester said her advice for raising children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren is fairly simple.

* “You just can’t love them enough.”

* “Be ever conscious of their feelings.”

* “When they are in your care, know where they are at all times.”

* “Let them realize that you love them and you are there for them when they need you.”

* “If they’re troubled about something discuss it and give them sympathy and good advice if they need it.”

* “Play with them. Watch family movies together or play on the lawn or in the driveway.”

* “Take them to church.”

A mother’s job is never really finished.

Even when her children are grown and have their own children, she is still giving advice on how to handle everything from fevers to skinned knees and heartaches.

Sometimes, life forces a grandmother to assume the role of mother once again.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7 million grandparents were living with grandchildren in 2010.

At 59 years old, Emma Corrine Edge of Gainesville had raised her four children and suddenly found herself taking care of two young granddaughters. Her youngest daughter, Marsha Edge, died in January 1998, leaving behind her 4- and 8-year-old daughters.

Edge, now 75, said she and her husband, Henry Edge, decided to raise their daughter’s children simply because they didn’t want them in foster care.

“I said ‘Well, I don’t want just anyone getting them,’” Edge said. “It was hard at the beginning just not being used to each other.”

Sasha Edge, 20, of Flowery Branch, and Heather Head, 24, of Hoschton said they remember not understanding why they went to live with their grandparents. Grief made the transition difficult.

“Sasha got pretty upset during the night. We had our spell then,” Emma Corrine Edge said. “Really, I had to just hold up because I had two little ones. I couldn’t make it harder on them.”

Eventually, the family fell into a routine.

“She took us in. She acted as if she was our mother,” Sasha Edge said. “She took on the mother duties even though she didn’t have to. She’d wake up every day at 5 o’clock, cook breakfast. We never missed a single meal. She made sure our beds were made. She made sure the home we lived in made us feel like we were at home.”

Emma Corrine Edge worked at a day care center while the girls were in school and attended college at Lanier Technical College in the evenings while she earned a degree in early childhood education.

Henry Edge worked as a long-distance truck driver and was on the road much of the time but helped shuttle the girls to and from school and extracurricular activities when he could.

“We got them through school,” Emma Corrine Edge said. “It was hard working and having two kids at the age we were. Then they both played sports. So we’d leave home at about 7 in the morning and get home at about 10 at night. But we made it.”

Though the granddaughters have moved away from home, the mothering hasn’t stopped.

“She’s still raising me,” Sasha Edge said, laughing. “She reminds me to pay my car insurance. She helps me with money sometimes if I really need it. If I ever wanted to come back home I’m pretty sure they’d let me come back. She calls me if I do something wrong. She says ‘Sasha, don’t be doing this’ or ‘Don’t go over your phone bill. Don’t waste gas. Don’t put miles on the car.’ She just wants to make sure everything goes perfect and I don’t mess anything up. She just tries to give you fair warning before she thinks something is going to happen.”

Head said she remembers seeing her grandmother’s face at every ballgame and track meet.

“She would always get up and take me,” Head said. “She would go to all the games. Even when I started driving, she was there at every single one of them. Whether we played at 6 a.m. or 2 o’clock in the morning, she stayed there with us.”

Head said when she looks back on the childhood her grandmother and grandfather provided for her and her sister, she feels grateful.

Head said she and her husband often take her grandmother’s advice on how to raise their two young sons. The couple adopted their oldest child, Easton Head, 5, when he was a baby and they were 19-year-old newlyweds. The couple also have a 17-month-old boy named Leland Head.

Like her grandmother, Head didn’t have to assume responsibility for a child who wasn’t her own, but she said she couldn’t stand to see the child go back into a bad situation.

Head, the older sister, baby-sat Easton when he was an infant. A medical emergency when he was a few months old lead to Easton’s adoption.

Head said she’s learned from watching her grandmother how to show love and help children grow.

“She did a lot of stuff she didn’t have to do,” she said. “It’s good. I’m glad she did. But she didn’t have to take us in. She didn’t have to do any of that at all. She pretty much raised us as her own, not just her grandkids.”

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