When I heard about the Grandmother Power blogging campaign, I knew I wanted to interview my grandmother. She has been a source of inspiration, kindness and love my entire life. Lois Jean was born in Jefferson, Iowa in 1935. The eldest of seven, she grew up on a small farm outside of town without running water or electricity. She graduated from high school when she was 17 (in 1953), and she was offered a scholarship to go to Omaha college (but decided not to take it). Her parents took her to Des Moines where she lived with her uncle until she got a job at Meredith Publishing company (lucky company) and an apartment of her own. She met my grandfather when she was 20 years old, married when she was 22 (in 1958), and went on to have four kids (three girls and one boy). Her eldest daughter is my mom, Shari.
I could talk to my grandmother for days. Once I start asking her questions about her life, I feel like I could keep asking her questions for days. For this interview, I tried to think of questions I hadn’t asked her before. Over two hours later, I had to literally peel myself away. My grandmother has lead a rich life filled with love and family.
Here are a few things I learned about her:
What is one of your favorite childhood memories?
Growing up on the farm. It was such a great experience, and it’s nice to know that I could always go back and live that way. Kids miss a lot now days because their always glued to a phone playing silly games. Our parents didn’t have a lot of money, but we had two bicycles (one large one for the older kids and a smaller one for the younger kids). We had a large yard with room to play, and we made up our games. There were seven of us, so we almost had our own baseball team. My favorite things were to play house beneath a mulberry tree and make up songs and a large piano we had.
I also remember that the doctor always came with his big black bag to deliver my younger brothers and sisters. I was five the
first time the doctor came, and I thought the doctor brought the baby in the bag! I learned better after a few more siblings arrived.
Who was running for president when you were first able to vote and what did you think of the election?
When I was first able to vote, I think it was the JFK and Nixon campaign. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what was going on back then and there wasn’t the media coverage there is today.
How did you know that you were in love with Gramps?
We were both working at Meredith Publishing Company when we met. Our friends were dating, and they set us up. He was fun, tall, and serious. I just knew that I didn’t want him to get away. He kept telling me that he couldn’t believe that I wanted to be with him. One time we were walking in the park with our friends, and I knew he wasn’t going to have the guts (but I wanted to), so I just grabbed his hand. He said that was when he first thought he might have a chance. When you know you just know. After two years of dating (after he had paid off his car), we got married. I made my own wedding dress.
What was the hardest part about raising mom?
Even though I helped my mother with my youngest siblings, there is a sense of panic when you have your first child (my mom was her first child) and know they depend on you for everything. Your mom was a good baby. She took dancing lessons when she was young because she was going to be tall and we thought that would give her poise. That was fine until she played softball and stood at first base in her dance position. Gramps said ‘What is she doing.”
What is one thing you want me to know about raising my own children?
There’s nothing more rewarding than to watch a child grow and learn. They are pretty durable and won’t break so relax and enjoy. Give them love, food, and a dry diaper and that usually keeps them happy. In the later years, try to listen to what they have to say before passing judgment.
When did you first feel like a grown up?
Actually I’ve felt like a grownup in training most of my life. You are always learning new things. After a few years you do feel that you are a responsible, contributing adult, but we’re never finished as there’s always something new to deal with day by day.
What are some of your favorite childhood memories of me?
I have memories of you as a little girl, carrying on an adult conversations at two years old, trips we took with you and your brother during spring break, and mostly how you loved to play cards. We would say that it wasn’t a good time or we were tired, and the whole time you were dealing the cards. Your big green eyes would look at us and we would give in. We loved it.
What’s your favorite book? song? movie?
My favorite book of all times was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott . My favorite song is Wind Beneath My Wings by Gary Morris because the first time your grandfather heard it he said that’s how he felt about me. My favorite movie is Pride and Prejudice (the A& E
version. I watched this at least two dozen times with my grandparents growing up).
What do you dream of now? in other words, what are your personal goals right now?
My goal for the future is to stay healthy, travel some, and be there for my husband, kids and grandkids if they need me. I want to enjoy the life I have left as best I can.
What is an example of a dream you had that you accomplished?
Once we got married and had kids, my goal was to live long enough to see them grow up and hopefully be a part of their lives and their children’s lives. My mother died when I was 39 years old, and I really missed having her to talk to as I got older. I couldn’t hope for anything more than the life I have had—a loving husband of 55 years, four wonderful kids, eleven sweet and good grandkids, and two cute great grandkids.
Do you have any dreams for me? Have I accomplished them?
To be happy. My dreams for you have always been for you to find something you love to do and someone you love
to share your life with. You’ve already accomplished both. I know you want a family, so that would complete my wishes for you except that I would also wish for you to have a healthy, long life.
Are there things that you think that I should do or see?
Keep your eyes open. You can learn a lot by watching how other people do things. Don’t be afraid to try new things and always stay open to learning new things. Always keep a good relationship with your mom. She is a smart lady.
* * *
This is only a small fraction of all the things we talked about over the course of a few hours. I cried through most of the interview at the memories that flooded over me as she talked and the love and heart that I could hear in her voice. My tears were filled with joy and appreciation and love for my grams.
My grams–who read to me, played cards with me (against her will), sang to me as she rubbed my back before I went to sleep, who fed me green apple slices because they were my favorite, and always, always listened to me. I learned one more new thing about my grams while we were talking. After she moved to Des Moines and got a job and an apartment she met a three girls, and they all moved in together. She met a boy when she was 19 (in 1955). They dated for a while, and she’d visited his family many times. And they became engaged. His parents even had a little house on their property ready for them. But after a few months, she realized she wasn’t ready. She could picture how her life would be (and it wasn’t the life she wanted for herself). So my grams, the eldest daughter of a poor farmer/carpenter, gave that boy back his ring. After that she met my gramps. At first, I was shocked (grams had been engaged!), but then I was just proud of her for being strong enough to know herself and what she really wanted (how hard that must have been!).
And then today it dawned on me (all of a sudden) that if she hadn’t been strong enough to walk from that engagement, I wouldn’t be here. And then, being true to ourselves, and trusting our heart in our choices, seemed even more powerful than it ever had before.
Grandmother power is a very real and palpable thing, and I carry so many of the things that I have learned from from my grandmother in my heart.
Thank you, Grams. You are an inspiration.
>>Don’t forget to check out all the other amazing Grandmother Power posts!