Grandmothers

Growing up in Alaska meant that our extended families were very far away. In the early 1960s, when we were homesteading at Sherman, money was in short supply and we didn’t take trips Outside. Our extended families lived mainly in California and Missouri…might as well have been the moon. My grandmothers were really the only family who made the long trip to Alaska with any regularity. I did meet my maternal grandfather in 1967 when he and my grandmother came to visit and brought with them my great-grandmother, Rachel Mary Greta Jaques, and two of my mother’s brothers. Grandpa Zirwes died three years later. My other grandfather, who I called Grandpa Charlie, died in 1955 – three years before I was born.

My grandmothers are the ones in my family who made the greatest impact on me. Grandma Zirwes came to visit once or twice after Grandpa Zirwes died…but Gram Lovel, my dad’s mother, she came to visit every summer if she could. Gram Lovel was a staunch believer in the old-fashioned concept of A Visit. You see, when folks came to see you for A Visit, you were in it for the Long Haul. I loved this…she was the only member of our extended family who did this. She would come to stay in the late spring and stay for the whole summer. Usually she left before we had to dig potatoes in the fall. She worried about our immortal souls and one summer she guilted us into going the whole salvation route. I know she meant well…but the whole thing left me with a firm conviction that I would never inflict that on any member of my family. She scrimped and saved and brought each of us a King James Bible, which I have always loved. Mine was red leather and had Jesus’ words in red ink…and I fell in love with the archaic language of the KJV.

Mind you, summers with Gram Lovel weren’t all guilt and salvation. She taught me so much…I learned how to pick and cook weeds – well, stuff that most people would call weeds. She taught us how to distinguish good plants from bad. She knew what wild celery looked like and how to hunt for morel mushrooms, and when the best time was to pick fiddlehead ferns. We would hunt around for fiddleheads and then when we had enough, wash the scruff off them and sauté them in butter…yum. Gram had a recipe in her head for muffins…I wish I’d paid closer attention to her when she was making them. We were very close, she and I. She was the one in her generation who kept track of the family history and after she died, I took up her mantle as the genealogist of my generation. She died in 2004, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday. I think of her every single day…

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by the incredible Kristi Rieger Campbell of Finding Ninee and Kenya Johnson of Sporadically Yours.

Ethel Lovel in the Garden at Sherman
Gram Lovel in the garden at Sherman…and a rare photo of her wearing PANTS!

9 thoughts on “Grandmothers

  1. Your Grandma sounds amazing and I’m always so jealous of families that have people come for A Visit that lasts months! Some of our neighbors in Virginia (we’re now in Colorado OMG) are from other countries and their parents (their kid’s grandparents) come stay for three to six months. At first I was like um, no. But they form such tight bonds with the kids and there’s something really special about that. Sounds like what you had growing up. So glad you joined up!

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    1. I didn’t realize until I grew up that most people I knew had little to no contact with their grandmothers…and I got to spend the whole summer with mine! She never held a driver’s license, but Gram knew how to travel…Greyhound buses and airplanes. She was a pro.

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  2. Wow – so close to her 100th birthday. My great-grandmother passed away at 99! Her daughter, my grandmother died at 100 and change.
    I just read “The Great Alone” and a lot of that book was about strong female homesteaders in Alaska, and this reminds me of that.

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  3. That must have been a great help to your parents to have your grandma there for the entire summer, plus it gave her time to build relationships with her grandchildren. How wonderful you could learn about the wild plants an what could be eaten.
    Love that photo of her working in the garden.

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  4. I guess I never really thought about how lucky I was to live close to both sets of grandparents. I love hearing about these memories you have of her. I also had some serious flashbacks remembering the KJV bibles with the red lettering, as I had one of those as a child too and also understand the significance of that picture of your grandmother in pants as I grew up in that background in elementary and junior high. Thank you for sharing these memories!

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  5. Your grandmother sounds like an incredible woman! I was fortunate to have my grandparents live nearby, and so are my kids. The downside to that is they are never long visits – nothing like A Visit for the Long Haul!

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