Unluckily I never had the traditional warm and fuzzy Grandmas.
My maternal grandmother, Barbra, spoke low German (she migrated from Russia when she was five years old). And my fraternal Grandmother, Lucile, was first generation American that was three-quarters English and one-quarter German by descent.
Grandma Barbra died when I was in 2nd grade. Although we went to her house often, I do not remember much of her other than her smile, her very tiny build and that she was always in the kitchen or garden. I do not think I ever even exchanged words with her. But in fairness my Mother was the youngest of thirteen children. So, I was probably about the 30th grandchild to come along.
Regardless, her passing when I was so young, did not leave any time for me to collect valuable family history from her directly. A loss which can never be recovered.
However, on the other side of the family tree my Grandma Lucile lived to be 92 years old. She died when I was 36 years old. Fortunately, just one month prior, on Easter, we had visited her in the nursing home and taken a ‘four generation’ picture. (I had a six month old daughter by then.) That picture is invaluable now.
My grandmother would have been defined to many as mean. When I was younger I would have definitely agreed. She would make statements if you looked heavy, have strong words for her brother-in-laws (my Dad had two sisters), and let everyone know her opinion whether logical or not and if you didn’t agree then she felt you were stupid.
When I was in my twenties and out on my own, I started by interest in genealogy. I dove full in: read books, searched websites, joined ancestry.com and went to the Dallas, Texas library sixth floor to research their extensive genealogy collection. (It has family history records, books, microfilm and maps from across the U.S.)
One of the books strongly recommended as the first step, ‘you should contact your oldest and closest related ancestor and interview them for all the gems of history they hold’.
And of course…for me on my dad’s side that was my Grandma Lucile. I can tell you I did not do it right away, it took me a little over a year and then I sat down and slowly wrote a letter. (remember at this point in time, around 1990, e-mail was not prevalent. Also, on my Grandmother’s ranch, she had no TV, a party-line telephone and only small amounts of running water.) To be honest I felt it was a 25% shot that I would ever hear anything back.
Do you know what happened? Within a week my Grandmother mailed me an over-packed business envelope full of information! It included a typed family tree, further stories from various parts of the ancestors and a hand written note of what history she knew from her family and my grandfather’s side.
IT WAS A GOLD MINE! And to this day I still refer back to it as I uncover more and more of my fraternal family’s genealogy. I was given numerous keys to unlocking further family history.
So, although my meanest Grandma lived the longest, she left me something kind and thoughtful that I could never repay personally.
And she would have loved showing me I was wrong…Proving that even the mean ancestors count.
P.S. As I have unlocked more of the family history, I am learning more and more about my Grandma Lucile’s past and why she was that way. My understandings have allowed myself to hold her more fondly now than I remembered her previously.