Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My grandparents - NaBloPoMo 6

The prompt yesterday was to "tell us about your grandparents".  Wow that seems like a lot for a single post! 

Unfortunately, my grandparents have all passed away.  My mom's dad went first:

Ray S died when I was about six years old.  His was the first funeral I ever attended, and I can recall seeing him in the coffin and thinking that was weird.  But I don't remember anything else about it.  He was only in his 60s when he died, not yet retired.  The story of his passing, as I recall it, was that he and Grandma were going to dinner at some friends' home.  While driving in a bitter cold winter night, the car stalled, so they were walking up the road or driveway when Grandpa keeled over and died.  No autopsy, but the assumption was heart attack.  I remember my Grandpa smoked a pipe.  He was a county engineer.  He met my Grandma when she was a teacher and they married on the last day of school (in those days, female teachers had to quit if they got married), which was also her birthday.  Grandpa was also drafted into WWII at something like age 42 and the only story I remember about that is that a sniper shot at him once and he had a overcoat or a cape-like outerwear item with a bullet hole through the hood that was hanging off his back.  I don't really remember my Grandpa but there is a story told that he asked me once when I was three or four how I liked my mother, and reportedly, I thought for a moment and then told him sincerely "well, she's not as bad as a wicked stepmother".  Nice!  This grandpa was 100% Swedish - his parents immigrated to the US in the late 1870s, as far as I know.

My mom's mom went last:

Helen S was a really great person who I enjoyed immensely.  She was 100% German, with her parents having been Mennonites (I believe) who first left Germany for Russia, but then immigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s.  Grandma was at least six feet tall in her prime, as was one of her sisters.  She had 3 sisters who were very close, even though they moved all across the country.  I remember looking through an old photo album some years ago, and finding a photo of Grandma, wearing pants and shooting a rifle.  She laughed at my surprise - apparently she and her siblings did all kinds of stuff.  I always knew I got my height and bone structure from Grandma Helen, but came to learn in my adulthood that I also got a good share of stubbornness and independence from her too.  She was only 62 or so when she was widowed.  Once, after my first divorce but before I met Sean, she and I happened to get on the subject of dating.  She told me that while she might have liked to have been taken out on a date after Grandpa died, she never ever wanted to remarry or share her home again - she liked being alone.  Tag that similarity up to me and Grandma too!  Helen was smart as a whip and interested in almost anything and everything and she loved to travel.  But she had no patience for gossip or judging other people or overt silliness.   And emotional moments were very very rare.  She has been gone now for nearly eight years ... gosh that's hard to believe.  She died just shy of her 95th birthday, having lived alone for over 30 years and independently until the last few months. 

My dad's dad was John W.  He was born in Norway in 1906 and immigrated with his mother and his 3 siblings in about 1922 after his father died.  He ended up in western North Dakota.  Grandpa passed away kind of unexpectedly in 1988.  He'd been sick though - I got married for the first time that fall and it was uncertain if he'd be able to come.  Then he fell a couple weeks later and broke his hip, went to the hospital and ended up with pneumonia...he died just before Christmas 1988 at age 81.  I visited him in the ICU shortly before he died - he had a ventilator so he couldn't talk but his eyes were just snapping and alert, and I knew he was so happy to see me.  I regret not asking more about his immigration and early adulthood when I had the chance.  He was a laborer without a lot of education.  He met my Grandma and the story we learned around the time of their 50th anniversary was that they married in January but, as she was a teacher, they kept it secret until the summer.  And Grandma's father died before summer, so he'd never known they were married.  My Grandma was educated and Grandpa was so very proud of that.  He was a terrific Grandpa - never shy about his bald head or his heavy Norwegian accent, and happy to let us tease him about it.  He rode a bike all over town and I would spent a week with them every summer, biking around and going to Dairy Queen.  He kept pigeons for a number of years.  He liked to have lump sugar with his coffee, he poured his coffee into his saucer and then would dip his sugar cubes into it and eat them, and then slurp the coffee.  I can still picture his usual cup and saucer, and learned to love coffee flavored sugar!  I distinctly remember the year that my sister usurped me as "Grandpa's girl" - as I hit the tweens/teens and she was still a cute little kid.  Hated that. 

My dad's mom was Signe W.  She was born in the US to Norwegian immigrant parents.  She had a host of brothers and a pair of sisters.  She got her teacher's license and, eventually, got a college degree after she was married.  I'm told she was a smart, hard working woman, who ruled with an iron fist and gossiped like a fiend with her sisters in law and other ladies around town.  She took good care of us when we visited, was a good cook, and was very kind to her grandkids - though I know I got spanked a few times too.  If her hair hadn't recently been "done", she'd let me comb it and put bows in it and such.  I know she laughed.  By the time Grandpa died, Grandma was pretty weak and dependent, as she had Parkinsons disease.  I'm told she was as tall as 5'9" but I only remember a pretty small Grandma, and I can remember in my childhood that she was pretty heavy with an enormous bosom, she wasted away to nearly nothing in the last ten years of her life.  She was in a nursing home for the last five or more years - many times not aware of who and what was around her.  I was living in Seattle at the time, so only saw her once or twice a year, but she "woke up" every time I was home, and every time someone brought one of her great grandchildren to see her.  When I saw her last, she had been asleep, nearly comatose, for several weeks, and yet when I came in she opened her eyes, and when I left she squeezed my hand and said "good luck to you", which was always her form of saying good bye to me.  Brings tears to my eyes even now to remember that.  I didn't make it home for her funeral, which came just over a month after I saw her, a week after her 90th birthday.

What I know is that I come from a long line of strong women, who partnered with men who recognized and valued that.  Apple doesn't fall far from the tree...


  1. Love it! Love that you can see from where you came, that you can trace your connection to the generations.

  2. Love this post! Grandpas are great for asking those kinds of questions :-)

  3. My Grandpa is 100% Swedish too. My Great-Grandma came to America by herself. I love that she had the gumption to do that! She cooked in a boarding house and met a fellow Swede, my Great-Grandpa. My favorite memories involve looking at my Grandpa's Swedish family photo's and hearing him tell the stories his mother told him.

    Thanks for sharing! I laughed when your three year old self described your mom!

    1. Wish I'd have had more of that time with my grandparents - the egocentricism of youth, I think, made me think I'd have all kinds of time later to ask questions and hear stories.

  4. What a tremendous gift--strong women, appreciative men. Your mention of the coffee cup, sugar cubes reminded me of my Pap with his oversized blue & white mug that he used for tea. He would put two or three teabags in it and let them steep for twenty minutes before he drank it. Ewwwww. I have the cup and saucer as well as the sugar spoon (which was custom "made" by him when he bent a regular spoon so it could rest properly in the bowl with the lid on it) he used every day. It's in the china cabinet--even though it's pretty beaten up and humble-looking.


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