The writing class that I’ve been taking officially ends this weekend.
I still have work to do on my final project…but I learned so much about being a writer during the course. It’s going to take a while for it to sink in, for me to absorb it all and be able to apply it all. It was beyond writing in many ways. Lots of soul-searching and heart examination. Interesting. Good for me. Some of it difficult. But good.
I changed the topic for my final project a couple of weeks ago, and decided to write about something close to my heart…my grandparents. Thought I’d share what I’ve put together so far here, and even include a few pictures. Hope you enjoy it!
Grandparents…they are a connection to our history. They help to shape and define who we are, even when we hardly know or have never met them. They are a part of us…from deep, deep inside.
They don’t last forever. They are my reality check…everyone grows old, if we live long enough. Everyone loses someone they care for deeply, works through sickness, lives through drama and trauma. And most everyone still remembers how to smile, laugh and go on living until we die. Everyone dies.
Life is fragile. Time is uncertain. I want to grasp all that I know and have of them and make sure that I never forget or lose the preciousness of grandparents.
I have more grandparents than “normal”. My mom’s dad died before I was born, so Mom’s mom married again. That’s three. Then Dad’s parents divorced and remarried. There were step-grandmothers I never met, but I won’t count them, so that’s another three. My step-dad has two incredible parents. That’s two. My step-mother’s mother is a sweet, beautiful woman who I love…but somehow she never felt like a grandparent. Perhaps that family connection happened too late, I don’t know. We’ll stick with the eight who have definitely impacted my life.
Robert Holland, my mother’s father, was a strong, rugged, hard-working man. The youngest of ten children, born into a family of puzzles and mysteries, he was adopted by the Hollands when he was six years old. After years of genealogy research, my mom found his father, who we all believed had left the family and disappeared – never to be heard from again, buried in the same cemetery as some of his children and their mother. His mother was rumored to have had a nervous breakdown that left her unable to care for her children, but she seemed to have recovered enough to marry a couple more times after her first husband “left”. Grandpa never talked about his family. He loved the Hollands, and even though he went to visit his birth mother, he never took his wife or children to meet her. So many questions. No one to answer.
Bob was a logger in Idaho before World War II, when he joined the navy. There he was trained to be a deep-sea diver – back in the day when they wore those big heavy suits and the metal helmets – and deep-sea diving became his life long career. After the war ended, his work took him to California, where he met my grandmother – a lovely young woman from Sweden who had come to the US to nanny for a year. He told her she was a like a queen, a beautiful queen, and made sure she married him before she went back to Sweden to visit her family for fear that he would never see her again. He won her completely…and still holds her heart, though he’s been gone for 40 years.
They lived happily in Mill Valley, California, and had two children, a girl and a boy. Of course I wasn’t there, but I always think of those years like something right out of Leave It To Beaver. Happy, simple, clean and perfect.
Then, when my mother was twelve and my uncle ten, deep-sea diving took them all half way around the world, to Saudi Arabia and a job with the Arabian American Oil Company. What an adventure!
Bob loved his family. He really knew how to laugh. I’ve looked long at the pictures of him smiling….his whole face twinkling and happy. He was a good husband and a good father. His deep-sea diving took them all to Hawaii, and he was close to starting a lobster farm in Fiji. But that same deep-sea diving took his life on his 56th birthday. The year before I was born.
Those photographs though, and the stories, tell me that the space between my teeth is from him. And my big-boned frame. And my smile. I believe I would have loved him deeply had I known him. I believe he would have loved me. Funny how you can miss a man you never met. I miss my grandfather. I miss all the wonderful memories we could have had, had something not gone wrong with his helmet that day…had the new tender not misunderstood the signals and pulled him up, instead of giving him more slack. Had things been different. But they are not. I am thankful for all that I do know about him. For photographs and home movies, and memories that my grandmother and her husband and my mom and uncle and my dad love to share about him. I feel proud that he is my grandfather. Father of my mother…Robert Holland…Grandpa.
She was born in Sweden in 1919. How she let “Anna Ingegerd Danielson” became “Gerd”, I’ll never understand, but there you have it. Her childhood sounds ideal…good times on the farm at her grandparents’ house, crawfish parties with her uncle on an island in the lake, St. Lucia festivals with candles on her head, midsommer dancing and crowns of flowers, gathering mushrooms in the forest, cycling across Sweden with her girlfriends. Then the Girl Scout Jamboree in Hungary, I believe. They travelled through Germany and could feel trouble, even though they couldn’t see it since they were forced to lower the window coverings on the train. They arrived back in Sweden just days before the war began.
Gerd knew short-hand in Swedish and English. She copied the scribbles of a couple of old men who wrote articles for the newspaper for a while, then landed a job as secretary for a business in Stockholm. Soon after the war ended, she packed up and left everything she knew behind, adventuring to San Francisco to be a nanny in a family for a year. They were wonderful to her, and she keeps in touch with one of the boys to this day….over sixty-five years later. But she does that…never forgets a friend or neighbor. Stays in touch with everyone. All over the world.
She met my grandfather at the wedding of a mutual friend. That handsome man with the twinkling eyes picked a rose out of the bride’s bouquet and gave it to her at the end of the evening. Over the next few weeks, he won her heart. She married him the day before she went home to Sweden for three months. Then she came back to him…with all of her heart.
She will be ninety-three this June…swims laps three days a week, walks on the tread mill when the weather is bad or on the road on good days, tends her gardens and indoor plants every day. She grows orchids incredibly well and when people ask her secret she says, “Oh, I don’t do anything special to them. They just grow.” She knits beautifully. I have a box of sweaters she made for us while we grew up. She has given us her loom, but I’m sure she could still weave her lovely rag rugs and runners. You should taste her french bread…or her cinnamon rolls. She’s rather famous in the area for her baking. I think that comes naturally to Swedes.
I’ve spent the greater part of the year with her, and never have I heard be intentionally mean or argumentative or even irritable. “I hate conflict.” She says. “I can’t stand it when people are upset. It hurts me.”
She and I love to go to coffee shops together. Strong coffee with cream please. No sugar. But a cookie on the side would be very nice indeed.
She’s never lost her Swedish accent. I love that about her. She calls “home” at least one day a week, to check on her sister or niece or friend.
She tells the stories that I love to hear over and over again. I have been spending most of my time with her lately, since she can’t sit up for very long anymore. As my brother says, “Most people’s grandmothers can’t get up. Ours can’t sit down.” So I drive her to swimming and coffee and shopping and appointments. I like being with her. I would like to be more like her in many ways. She’s teaching me to knit, and to speak Swedish.
Mother of my mother. Mormor. Jag älskar dig!