Sunday, November 17, 2013


“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.”  It wasn’t quite such a trip as that and we never made it in a horse and sleigh, but trips to “Grandma’s House” were a weekly, sometimes almost daily, occurrence while I was growing up.  I have written before about living in many houses as a child.  We moved, on average, once every two years until I was a teenager.  For this and other reasons, my Grandma Freytag’s house was the geographical center of my childhood.  I cannot remember not knowing that house; she was living there before I was born and until after I was grown.  Also Laurence, her second husband (more about him later) was there until he died when I was nine.
Many of my earliest memories are from that house.  Holidays and birthdays were celebrated there.  John and I would often stay there overnight when our folks went out for an evening.  Mother and Dad were married there.  “Dad” was actually my step-dad and they were married when I was four and half so I do remember the wedding.  I loved going there, because to my young eyes Grandma’s house had so much more of everything than did our own home, including, for a number of years, an indoor bathroom. 
    There were always cookies, kept in green glass jars and stored on top of a kitchen cabinet.  I can remember, when I was so young that I had to stand on tiptoe to see onto the table top, that jar was so high overhead it could have been on the moon.  My brother and I learned “Please” and “Thank you” asking for cookies.  It pleases me that those jars are still in the family, now in the possession of one of your cousins who remembers it from her grandma’s house.
     Also among the “more”  things in the house were all sorts of exotic objects and devices that Laurence (he insisted that we call him that, not Grandpa) had accumulated.  Grandma and Laurence liked to travel and brought back souvenirs of the places they had been,  among them Mexican and Cuban handicrafts and pictures from the Grand Canyon.  He was interested in just about everything  and loved making things.  Two of his more impressive creations were a loom (for weaving cloth) about the size of an upright piano, and a Newtonian telescope with an eight inch mirror.  The one that fascinated me the most as a child was a working model steam engine, complete with a high pitched whistle,  which  he would sometimes operate for us.
    Because I didn’t have a “dad” between the ages of two and 4 ½, Laurence was my first male role model.  I learned about using tools and hard work and loving from Dad, but it was Laurence who gave me the attitude of “Everything is interesting,” that I still enjoy today.

    Christmas was always spent at Grandma's house.  The presents waited for us under the tree, but first came the Christmas feast with all the traditional dishes.  Then came the longest hour of the year.  "The menfolk" including my brother and me would move to the living room where the tree was set up while the women cleaned up after the meal (this was the 1950s).  Opening presents did not begin until the dishes were done and everyone was gathered around the tree.  Only then would John and I begin handing out the gifts. 

   "Grandma's house" will always be a special place for me, the center of family, warmth, and security when I was a child and the source of my desire to be a part of creating such a place for my own children.  I only wish that being long distance grandparents didn't get in the way of our providing you with a "Grandma's house" of your own.


Monday, November 4, 2013


The gate to memory lane this time was unlocked by a note on another blogger’s site  encouraging her to tell more stories about herself, and was opened by running across the name of a teacher from my college days.  The teacher was the faculty sponsor for the Drama Guild and directed most of their productions.  I took part in several of those productions, either on stage or operating the lights.  Most memorably for me, I was given the part of Tom Wingfield in Tennessee  William’s “The Glass Menagerie.” That’s right, your grandpa was a “thespian.”  Probably I was not a very good one, especially since I was terrible at memorizing, but it was a lot of fun and a chance to be friends with some of the more eccentric people on campus.  “Campus” was Aurora College and at the time it was a small, conservative, church related college, so “eccentric” is a relative term.  We were very much not the local chapter of the student protest groups that were beginning to claim national headlines around that time, mostly we were just more interested in fun than scholarship and possessed of exaggerated opinions of our own cleverness.  Rebellion was mostly nothing more than breaking curfew and drinking rules and "protesting" about the cafeteria serving mystery meat..

College for me was much more about the extracurricular activities than about the accumulation of classroom knowledge.  Dorm life, sports (cross-country and wrestling) and campus social life added more to my education than any course or lecture series.  Participating in Drama Guild and working on a student newspaper were two experiences that are still a part of me.  The newspaper experience actually did begin as a form of student protest.  A group of us felt that the official on-campus paper was so dominated by the administration that it was incapable of raising even small issues of student body discontent, so we started an alternative paper.  Looking back, it seems we were playing at dissidence, but at the time we felt daring and independent.  However little we may have accomplished, we did learn a great deal.  Deadlines to be met and column inches to be filled required us to work hard for goals we had put in place ourselves.  Voicing unpopular opinions and sometimes making mistakes provided real learning opportunities, mostly to learn that actions have consequences.

I can relate to those people who look back at their college or high school days as the best years of their lives.  I have been so fortunate as to spend the last thirty-nine years (and counting) with Grandma B, so there is no question in my mind that the best years of my life are still in process.  Even so, those years at Aurora College were filled with youth, aspiration, camaraderie, emotion, belonging, immersion and intensity that no other time can match.  I don’t know what “the college experience” will look like for you, my grandchildren, but I hope it can bring to you some of what it brought to me.