My grandmother, Bobbi (she of the practical jokes ) grew up in a poor family and only had an 8th grade education. High school back in the 1920’s was expensive and wasn’t something the family could afford, so she stayed home, caring for her sick mother and working as a waitress or maid when she could. One weekend, while she was at home, a good-looking fellow drove up in his Auburn Cord and brazenly asked Grandma to take a ride with him.
Being a proper young lady of the time, Grandma declined, as he was a stranger. He became “quite aggravated,” according to Grandma – and told her to “Go to the Dickens!”
However, the young man was smitten by Grandma, because he was back the next day, with his cousins (whom Grandma DID know). They introduced him properly as Otto Abraham – “Tom” to his friends. Tom wasted no time asking Grandma to take a ride with him and they went on a date – in fact, they dated every night for the next two weeks and then they decided to get married. Grandma said that people thought they were being hasty, but that she thought Grandpa was a “swell guy” and she wasn’t going to let him out of her grasp. She never did regret her decision.
Grandpa had joined his family’s construction crew as a teenager, but work was hard to come by in 1928 – and even more so when the stock market crashed and the great depression hit the next year. He worked at whatever he could find – often working on road construction with his family’s crew, but not too proud to be a wrangler at a dude ranch, a crop picker, or any other sort of odd job that came his way. However, he was often unemployed and worried about how he was going to support his growing brood. At the height of the depression, the family moved into a tiny home in Wells, Nevada. Grandpa was cleaning out a small shed the backyard and found a stash of money – more than he could make with 5-6 months of steady work! He used the money to pay off bills and to purchase much-needed food and clothing. But, one evening, there was a knock at the door and, when Grandpa opened it there was a “sinister looking” man outside – he was a secret service agent and had come to arrest Grandma and Grandpa for counterfeiting! After much explaining and showing the agent where he had found the money, a more thorough investigation was launched and it was discovered that the family that had previously rented the home (and had left town in a hurry) had been the actual counterfeiters.
In 1932, Grandpa was working in the potato fields in Idaho, harvesting, sorting and storing the spuds. My grandmother cooked for the crew of fourteen men to earn a bit extra, as any money was precious at that time. As the men were eating and talking, their language was colorful and peppered with swear words. With her two small, impressionable children at work with her, Grandma asked, over and over again, for the workers to please keep the language clean. Her requests seemed to work for only a few minutes and then the cussing would begin again. One day, one of the men let loose with a particularly vulgar word and Grandma, in a fit of frustration and anger, hurled a fork at him! It nearly took off his ear and lodged in the wall, right next to the man’s head, quivering from the force of the throw. There was no more swear words in the cookhouse after that.
On one summer’s day in 1956, my grandfather began to have a lot of pain in his arms and back. When it did not improve, my grandmother took him to the hospital, where they were assured that it was torn ligaments from the hard, manual labor Grandpa did each day. They taped him up and my grandmother stayed with him until about 8:30 that night, when he asked her to go home and check on my mother and her sister (who were then 8 and 12-years-old). Grandma got waylaid by some neighbors and talked to them for a while and when she got home, the phone was ringing. It was a friend, who told her, “I heard Tom died today, is there anything I can do?” Grandma laughed out loud and assured her friend that her husband was very much alive. However, a few minutes later, two more friends came to the house, telling her that her husband of 28 years was gone due to a heart attack. Grandma told us that she didn’t remember much for days after that – just the terrible loss and grief.
While I have great memories of my grandmother, the only things I know of my grandfather are from the pictures that are left and stories that were told (and there were many stories – funny, dramatic, frightening, and thrilling). And whenever I’m driving in Idaho on a long and lonely mountain road, I wonder – did Grandpa see this same view? Was he here long ago, building this very road with his father and brothers? I like to think that he was.