Sunday, October 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Grandma!

October 3rd would have been my great-grandmother's 110th birthday. This December will also mark ten years since she died. I am lucky because I was one of the last of her great-grandchildren (and now great-great-grandchildren) to have known her. She died right before my eleventh birthday (actually her funeral was the day after my birthday), but she is the relative that I remember most fondly and vividly when I think back to when I was really young. I also think she is the reason why I am interested in genealogy. She always, until the day she died, remembered every one's anniversary, birthday, the names of all their spouses, children, pets and everything else. She marked everything with a card and not just any old card, she made every card whether for a birthday or bereavement, personal and special and that's something that I think all of us in the family fondly remember about her. She was also one of the most generous, warm-hearted people you could ever meet and she was known as "grandma" to everyone, even outside her family. I regret that I didn't appreciate her more, that I always assumed she'd be around (as did we all, I think) and that I'd lose my temper with her because it took her longer to do or say things as she got older. More, importantly I regret not taking much interest in her VERY interesting life. Granted, I was only ten when she died, but it is still something I wish I had done. Towards the end of her life (and she lived to be a hundred!) she gave interviews which, while interesting, only scratched the surface of her life. She was born in turn of the century San Francisco, the only child of a second-generation son of a prominent Nova Scotian family who came west to strike it rich in the gold rush and then chose to stick around afterward and settle and the daughter of Danish immigrants who were ranchers in Mt. Eden (now Hayward, California). When she was a young girl, she lived through the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, where the only thing of theirs that was saved was a doll of hers. Following the earthquake my grandmother and her mother, Kathryn, stayed with Kathryn's parents across the Bay and watched the city burn, all the while wondering if my grandmother's father was alive or not (he survived). They slowly rebuilt their lives after this and eventually returned to the city. In 1918, when my grandmother was around twenty, her mother died. Following Kathryn's death, grandma's father, Lauren, remarried and had three more children. Grandma, while never saying anything bad about her half-siblings, never spoke of her step-mother and must have resented this interloper in her family. In the 1920 census she is seen living with Kathryn's parents- could this be indicative of a rough relationship with her new step-mother? During this time she also worked as a secretary for the phone company and as a stenographer for a bank. In late 1922 she married my great-grandfather and the "city girl" chucked it all to go be a farmer's wife. She raised a family and lived on "the ranch" with her husband until his death in the 1940's. She never remarried or left their ranch (until her final years in a nursing home) and always had a freezer full of bon-bons and Oreo's and other sweets in her pantry and an open door to all the neighborhood. I've never seen pictures of her parents and San Francisco family and most of the information above, I learned either through a third-party, research on the internet or read in interviews. I wish I had asked more and paid more attention when she spoke. But, I do have many fond memories. I remember sitting on her porch with her, looking at her fancy crochet hooks and other needlework, watching things like the Miss America competition and PBS with her and sitting in her sun room with her looking at her picture books, I remember all the times we stayed over with her, the meals we shared in her dining room and Christmas' with her and the cousins in her living room. I don't really remember the conversations, mainly because we didn't really have any, which makes me sad. But I remember the sound of her voice, her little mannerisms, the hairstyle that she had that in all the time I knew her never changed, her rose perfume and pearls that she always wore and her incredible memory which, frankly, we all should have taken more advantage of. I'm sorry I didn't ask more or tried to talk with you more, sorry I got impatient and rude with you, sorry I never really appreciated you, sorry I didn't do more for and with you. Sorry. Love you grandma,


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