My grandmother will turn 95 next month. We don’t know how much longer we have to enjoy her company. Her health, especially mentally, is deteriorating at a sobering pace. When you visit her at the nursing home, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s depressing because that’s not how I remember grandma. Like most strong and determined women from her generation, the nursing home has never been home. She has always wanted to go to her house, that was home.
Grandpa and grandma moved into their house in 1976 when they retired from the farm. It is a small house and structurally nothing special. And it’s not new and it wasn’t new in 1976. It was, however, grandma’s house and we loved it! The living room was the ‘original house’ before the additions were built. But the ‘original house’ wasn’t built for a family, it was built as a school house. A one-room schoolhouse, in the country, on the plains of eastern Colorado. A school house grandma attended as a child.
Grandma lived in a school house, her school house. I find that interesting. My kids can’t imagine moving into their school when they retire, let alone imagine ‘retiring’.
There’s more to the story of this particular school house then the love and warmth that our family knew. It was home to a tragedy, The Towner Bus Tragedy. In late March of 1931 a surprise blizzard stranded some 23 kids and a bus driver on their way home from school. Five of the kids froze to death as did the bus driver, Carl Miller, when he tried to walk for help in the blizzard. Grandma wasn’t at school or on the bus that day and I don’t know why. I’d like to know. Grandma has talked about that day, but I’ve failed to capture the details. It’s part of her life story.
Now is the time to ask your parents, your grandparents, and if you’re lucky, your greatgrandparents their life stories. Write the stories down or capture them on video. Most of us carry a video camera with us everyday, our smart phones. I pray for the chance to document my grandma’s life story before it’s too late. Here are just a few of the many questions I’d like to ask her.
• Tell me about the day of the Towner bus tragedy?
• When and where did you meet grandpa?
• What was my dad like as a child?
• What was your experience during the Great depression, the dust bowl, World War II?
• What are you favorites memories as a child?
• How do you want to be remembered?
• What is one funny story from your youth that still makes you smile?
• Who were the most influential people in your life?
• I want to know more about your dad, my great-grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Germany through the port in Corpus Christi, TX.
• Can I have your homemade noodle recipe? (She made the best chicken and
noodles and she served it over mashed potatoes. A family favorite! Can you say starch?)