Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living History and Family Treasures

We just returned from a visit to various relatives, including my husband’s grandmother, an amazing woman.  She thinks she was born in 1917, although there is some doubt because she was born at home and her parents didn’t get a birth certificate until a few years later.  Officially, though, she’s ninety-seven, living in an apartment of her own in a senior facility, and doing her own cooking and housekeeping. She still has sharp hearing, a sharp mind, and judging from her geraniums, a green thumb. I want to be her when I grow up.

We did a little sightseeing on the trip. We saw Cave-in Rock, a notorious hideout for bandits including the James gang, and some beautiful cemeteries, and lots of corn. But mostly, we chatted. My husband’s grandmother is a walking history book. She was there during the depression, WWII, the moon landing, and everything since, working hard and raising a family. She grew up on a farm, married a farmer, and then after her husband died, went to work as a hospital aid. It was never an easy life, but she’s not the type to complain. "We didn't have much, but we grew vegetables and had chickens, so we always had enough to eat." 

The town where she lives celebrates a fall festival called Corn Days, but she mentioned Rooster Day, when someone threw a rooster from the upstairs window of an office building and people tried to catch it. We were able to find a record of Rooster Day on the internet, to her great satisfaction. “See, I didn’t make it up.” It took place in the thirties. Kiwanis promoted the day, encouraging farmers to bring their roosters to sell in town, and she remembers.

She's seen so much, stored up such wisdom, it's a shame that she won't always be there to share her experiences. I love to include characters like her in my books. They've been through all the stages of life and recognize BS and melodrama, although they're usually too polite to say so directly. The curiosity of children, energy of youth, balance of middle-age, and wisdom of elders: all add richness and depth to a story, and to life. 


  1. Can you record some of this lady's memories? What an interesting woman she sounds.

  2. Thanks, Julia. We've recorded a few, but she doesn't like to be the center of attention. She's a great lady.

  3. My grandmother agreed to write her memories of homesteading in North Dakota. She wrote and wrote and wrote, and finally handed me the manuscript. I typed it for her and she read the four pages and demanded to know where the rest was. She then said she had written enough. *sigh*

    Your grandmother-in-law sounds fabulous.

  4. That's four precious pages of family history. My grandmother told me about wet diapers hanging to dry in the kitchen that would freeze overnight and that was in West Texas. North Dakota is a whole level up in hardship.

    Funny how easy it is to have a conversation, but writing down memories is hard work. Even putting elders on the spot with a recorder can drive away the spontaneous memories. Just chatting seems to be the way to unearth the treasures.