My mom tells tales about the poverty her family grew up in; including stories about how the siblings had to share one Hershey’s bar and how she would savor her piece of chocolate. She also tells us about how hard her parents worked to rent farms from people until they finally purchased their land. She tells us about crawling around the hay bales and breaking more than one pair of glasses due to childish antics. One of my favorite stories about my mom’s childhood is one about her father, my grandfather. At one point, my grandparents owned three pigs and my grandpa named them Cindy, Gail, and Vicky… after his three daughters. When they were butchered, the joke around the table was they were eating “Cindy” that night. This was not a typical lifestyle: at a time when people were moving away from farming and small town living, my grandparents fought to maintain it. I love it. I love hearing stories from the past and understanding where my mom comes from and how her struggles as a child shaped my life.
My Gramma L is 75 and still going strong (she recently climbed 50 flights of steps for the Cystic Fibrosis Climb for a Cure). My Grampa L passed when I was in third grade. Even though I was relatively young, it had a serious impact on me. I remember crying in the bathroom, at the wake, and sobbing at the funeral when his casket was carried out of the church.
My grandparents met through their families. Apparently, one of Grampa’s brother’s used to come play cards with Gramma’s parents. The brother kept threatening to bring over Carl (my Grampa) the next time he was on leave (my Grampa was in the Air Force). Well, he followed through on the threat, and brought Grampa along with him. Gramma was surprised when she met Grampa: he was nothing like his brothers (she didn’t say so, but I think she liked his uniform). They played cards and the next time they saw each other was at a community dance. Gramma says this would be the “first date,” but times were different. Gramma went with her brother Al and Grampa came separately with his brother. After the dance was over, Al told my gramma that Carl liked her. Gramma said she didn’t really believe it, but over the next five years, the two saw each other more and more.
Gramma went to school to become a teacher, then moved to a small community to teach for a few years. The year she moved back to Foley, Grampa proposed. They married a short time later. Throughout the courtship, Grampa battled his own problems. He was enamored with the family farm, but had many conflicts with his family. This conflict marked most of their marriage. Grampa kept trying to own the farm, and his family kept running him off. Finally, they gave up, sold their personal property, and rented.
My mom remembers renting all the different places and both her and my grandma talk about how miserable the homes were. Often times rodents and snakes would get into the house and the women had to take care of it. Grampa was working hard to support his family, and so was Gramma. Finally, they were able to buy the farm Gramma still owns. It was a long battle for them and didn’t end after they found their farm.
Grampa’s family spread malicious rumors about Gramma and Grampa; they told the banks my grandparents’ credit was bad and they couldn’t be trusted to repay loans. Luckily, not every bank believed the lies and they secured the loan they needed for their home.
My Gramma reflects now that, while it was hard, it made her the strong woman she is today. She is one of the toughest people I know and can handle more adversity than most people I know. And my mom is the same way. There is no problem too hard for the women I come from (this speaks for my Grandma Novak too).
Through the adversity, my grandparents created a family for themselves. Nine children in all. The first eight came in quick succession: Rory, Cindy, Rock, Gil, Gail, Mark, Vickie, and Gary. When my mom was 21, Gramma had her last child: Patric. My Uncle Patric likes to joke that he grew up an only child in a family of nine, and in many ways he did. My Uncle Patric and my brother Matt are less than a year apart and grew up more like brothers than uncle and nephew.
Some of my favorite memories as a child come from spending time up North. One summer, my siblings and I built a teepee out in the woods: complete with toilet (and yes, once in an emergency, I did use the toilet). When my grampa was still alive, he would make jewelery with stones we found in the driveway. He would polish them and attach them to earrings or a necklace. I no longer have any, but I think my eldest sister still has a necklace and it is one of her most treasured possessions. I remember sitting with my grampa when we would visit in his chair (he didn’t move around much at this point, it was after his lung surgery) and I remember eating way too much food. My gramma was always giving us candy, jello, and treats.
There are so many memories in my Gramma’s house: spying down on the adults from the upstairs grate (and thinking they couldn’t hear us), sneaking into the barns, and Uncle Pat’s pet cows. Not to mention countless visits with Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. When I think of my Gramma’s house, it brings to mind memories of food and happiness and a lot of laughter.