My maternal grandmother lived through the “dust bowl” years on a farm in the middle of North Dakota and raised a family. She also played a major role in raising me in the middle of the last century. Grandma Fanny loved to tell stories of her successes and trials during that time on the farm.
When I went off to college just a hundred miles away I often came home to visit Grandma and friends in Jamestown. That meant listening to her stories. Again. There were perhaps two dozen stories about cars, chickens, and school. I didn’t want to listen to them again.
Grandma had a way of repeating those same stories too often. She lived in her past. It was a great place to live. There were active people and challenges to face, but I didn’t want to listen to that story about Grandpa Ted selling fencing one more time. She had to tell it again. As my grandmother would talk, I’d do something else. Read, watch TV, anything but listen. How many times did I have to listen to a story that she had to finish, with me in the bedroom, in bed, trying to escape the story by feigning sleep?
I ignored the stories for years, then the day came when the phone rang with the bad news. After eighty-nine years on this earth Grandma was gone. As a family, we really miss the old woman, even though we were happy to not have to put up with those damned stories again. Some years later it occurred to me that those all too familiar stories were fading from my memory. Those stories were Grandma! After actively avoiding the stories for years, I had succeeded in walling them out of my memory!
I was devastated. No way could I let this happen again! I concocted a scheme that, as I look back on it, was quite the demand on my elders. I asked my mother (Grace), father (Louie), mother-in-law (Lucy), and dear friend Jim to write a series of stories of their life growing up. Wow, did I ever learn a lot from those stories. They had never shared most of them! Those papers are now among my most treasured possessions. As I entered the third year of retirement, it came to mind that my turn has come to share my stories, even if the next generation doesn’t care to listen. Their time will come, and if not … well, this is fun for me, too.
My parents and others seem to have been driven by stories. They had great stories. Grease on the railroad tracks. Rides to school on horseback. Escaping from the back of a police car. Going to war. These letters from Grace, Louie, Lucy and Jim tell some of those stories. My stories are a little more benign.
After deciding to start this blog based on what guides my decisions I found a stack of paper in an old file cabinet in my home office. Back in 1993 and 1994 I had started writing my stories, even as our parents were writing theirs down for us. My stories never went anywhere. Maybe this project will connect with you?
Some of the first stories describe
- what it’s like to be in the farm house when Indians ride by.
- the house you bought sight unseen in 1919.
- what it’s like to hitchhike across country, catching a ride in a brand new 1953 Cadillac.
- experiencing the love of a Grandpa who let a four year old ride off to an adventure on a tricycle.
- playing in the park at age seven, a half mile from home, with no adult supervision.
Many more stories follow those, almost two hundred so far. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed collecting them.
Originally published 2014-09-15