Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Grandma Full of Adventure

Since my grandparents live in Washington state, we conducted the interview using Skype. When we first called them, their camera was pointed at the floor, so my dad had to talk them through the process of moving it and setting it up. At the time that this was going on, I was working on setting up my note taking pages, so my dad stepped in for me and talked to my grandparents while I was working. I overheard them talking about politics and what was going on with the construction in their neighborhood. It was nice for them to have a conversation, but I felt bad for keeping them waiting. Once I finished the task of setting up the papers, I went over to the computer and began the interview process.

My grandma, who I call Lita, seemed to enjoy being interviewed and showed appreciation for the challenge of remembering what it was like growing up. A few times, she had to really think about a question, and might even ask my grandpa, who I call Lito, who may have the answer to the question. Lito is not as talkative as Lita, so he wasn’t extensively descriptive with his answers. When Lita saw I was taking notes, she would slow down the pace of her talking so I could write. She was thoughtful and kind, and I had a fun time interviewing her.

When Lita is concentrating, she sticks her tongue slightly out of her mouth. I saw her do this multiple times while asking questions. I also noticed that she had a soccer game on in the background and every once in awhile she would turn to Lito and ask if their team had scored.

Lita has light grey, smooth, soft hair. She wears glasses with little nose pads and an oval rim. Her voice is happy and bubbly. When she speaks it is like the room lights up. I love talking to her! Since she lives in Washington, the home state of rain, she usually wears a sweatshirt and jeans, but in the summer she wears nice t-shirts and occasionally a tank top with shorts.

Our first topic of discussion was the house Lita grew up in. She told me that she lived in Seattle in a residential neighborhood called Ballard. She lived in the same house until she moved away to go to college. Ballard was known for all of the Scandinavian people who chose to live there. She lived in a small house with her mother, her father, her younger sister, and Butch, the family dog. The house had three bedrooms and one bathroom. It also had an upstairs and a basement. In the basement was a large bin full of coal that was used to feed the coal furnace that heated the house. When the bin of coal was empty a truck similar to a dump truck would come and dump more coal into the bin. When the bin was full, Lita and her sister would go into the bin and climb all over the coal. They loved climbing the mounds of coal and playing in the bin, but their mother didn’t like it, because every time they would go into the bin she and her sister would become filthy! All of their clothes and both of their faces and bodies would be black! Then their mother would have to help them get all of the dirt off and out of their hair.

In her backyard was a humongous Dogwood tree that Lita and her sister would climb on all the time. Lita loved to climb that tree and still remembers its beautiful blossoming flowers. In her “pretty big” backyard was also a swing set. She would swing with her sister for hours on end.

Her room was upstairs. It was a pretty good size and she shared it with her sister. She told me that when you first walked up the stairs to her room you would see a “mini office” including a desk, a sewing kit, and a lamp. Once you walked past the desk you would see a closet. There were no walls or doors between the mini office, closet, and the room, so it was sort of like an attic. In her room was a small but cute cubby-like area with a big mirror and a long table to put curling irons, straighteners, and makeup on.

“It was a really nice place to get ready for an event, or just a regular day” she said.

When she got home before her sister, she would hide in the closet and jump out to scare her! Lita loved that, but her sister didn’t. Later, her room was finished by her father and her grandfather so it would look less like an attic and more like a real bedroom.

In the summer and after school, when the weather was nice enough, she and her friends would go outside and play games like baseball until it was time to go to bed. They would play in the street because there was no traffic. They enjoyed playing Hide n’ Seek because they had the whole block to hide in, including the neighbor’s yards! Another game they would play was called Cowboys and Indians. The game was mostly just running around, chasing each other, but if you were captured by the other team then you would be tied to a tree. Your team won if all of the members from the other team were captured and tied up. They also made fun clubs.

“Members paid dues, maybe two or three cents per meeting. We had a secret password to get into the meetings. We elected officers. We put on shows for the public (the public was mostly our parents and younger siblings). Sometimes we built special clubhouses in our basements or garages.”

Every summer since about second-grade Lita said she went to Girl Scouts camp. It lasted only one week when she was younger, but it lasted two weeks when she was older. She told me about going on hikes, swimming, and canoeing. Sometimes they would take overnight canoeing and/or hiking/backpacking trips, which she enjoyed. When it came to meals, they would cook their own! She remembers the silly things they would do at the dining tables. There would be some kind of practical joke or you might have to sing a song or do a dance or say a rhyme if you were the last one to the dinner table or you were the last one to finish dinner or you were late. Lita said she worked really hard to be on time and to not have to do any embarrassing things in front of everyone. She said she might of had to do something silly in a group, but never on her own. Her favorite part of the camp was being with a bunch of girls her age, being away from her parents for a week or two, and just having fun. She is 73 years old, and she still gets together with friends from camp. She also loved to camp with her family on weekends in the summer. They went camping very often.

Her father always took a vacation from work in the summer to be with his family. They never owned a boat, but one summer they borrowed one from the company that her father worked for. They took the boat to the San Juan Islands. They stopped at little islands that were only open to private boats because big ferries didn’t stop there. It was an adventure for her, because it was her first long private boat trip. She really liked sleeping on the boat. The morning they were leaving to go home from the trip it was extremely foggy. Her mother was reading the map, and her father was driving the boat. The third time that they passed the same set of trees and rocks, her father said that he thought he had seen them before. Her mother told him that she was sure they were going the right way, but eventually she believed him. Lita remembers laughing so hard that it took them three times of circling around the same island to figure out that they weren’t going anywhere. She remembers how she would drag her feet in the water and feel the wind on her face. She loved standing on the front of the boat and feeling the wind rush around her.

I asked if her dad ever cooked and she laughed hard because she said the only thing that her father knew how to make was a bowl of cereal. If the girls went away for a trip, then the only thing he would eat would be cereal.

“If the girls were gone for the night - there was just my sister and I, and my mom, so all women and my dad - so if all the women were gone for the evening, all he’d eat was cold cereal!”

She continued to laugh as she pictured her father in the kitchen trying to cook. Her mother cooked all the time. The meal Lita remembers most is called hash. It wasn’t her favorite meal, for sure, but she thinks she remembers the hash because they ate it pretty often. Hash is made with something called a hand-cranked meat grinder.

You put vegetables (like onion, potatoes, etc.) and meat in a meat grinder. Once everything was ground up, it would be put in a bowl with other ingredients and mixed. The hash would then be cooked. Lita said hash looked like meat loaf. Her dad would eat it with tons of ketchup! They would always eat together as a family. She remembers that her dad loved her mom’s potato salad, and that it was definitely his favorite thing that her mom made.

We talked about how different school was back when she attended junior high. Her school had three grades (seven, eight, and nine). It was a square, brick building with three stories and more than 1,000 students. Each class had about 25 to 30 kids.

“Girls were required to wear skirts or dresses – no pants allowed unless it was extremely cold outside,” she said. “The most popular skirts were very full with several starched slips underneath to keep them full. We wore blouses or pullover sweaters with the skirts. The most popular shoe was a saddle shoe or penny loafers worn with crew socks.

“I remember that the boys often wore shirts with collars and a button-down front. Some wore just t-shirts as well. Pretty much like boys wear now but I'm sure the styling was different. When the boys were in high school, some looked like the boys in the movies Grease or Footloose. The hairstyles were a lot like the boys in those movies.”

Many of the rules we have today at Laguna Middle School are similar to the one that Lita’s school had. The could not chew gum, talk or whisper to other students while the teacher was talking, or run in the halls.

“Of course there were no problems with cell phones or ipads because we didn’t have them,” she said.

Math and English were her favorite subjects, but she disliked history.

“I didn’t much like history because I thought it was boring or that the history teachers were always boring,” she said. “I liked math because it was a challenge. I liked English because I liked to read.”

Lita remembers a class called study hall. It was in a big room the size of two or three regular classrooms. Desks were in long rows and for one hour students were supposed to do homework. It was absolutely quiet for the whole hour and if anyone talked or laughed or made any noise, they had to stay after school. Our P.E. classes was separated with boys in one class and girls in another.

The next topic to arise in our conversation was about her first real job, it was picking strawberries.

“The first time I earned any money was for picking strawberries for one season,” she said. “It happened to be a very rainy June and my girlfriend and I came home covered in mud every day.”

She earned about $2.00 to $4.00 per day. She and her friend thought $4 was a lot of money, but they did not like getting so dirty all the time. They rode to the strawberry field on a school bus every morning at about 7 a.m. Lita said she was probably about 12 or 13 years old. She only worked at the strawberry fields for one season. Her next job was as a counselor at Girl Scouts summer camp on Hood Canal. She couldn’t remember how much she earned but she remembers it was a lot of fun. She was in charge of a cabin of girls, making sure they were up in the morning and got to breakfast on time, did their chores, made their beds, cleaned the camp area, etc. She taught them about using a jackknife, building a fire, tying knots with rope, backpacking and other outdoor skills. She went with them to all of the meals and swimming and boating time. She went canoeing and backpacking with them, and made sure they went to bed and were quiet at night. She worked in the camps for one summer.

When she was older, and had saved enough money to buy her first car, she bought a l964½ bright red Mustang with white interior.

“It was small, cute and it was a sports car,” she said. “I loved the Mustang, it was a really fun car. I wish we still had it!”

She got two speeding tickets. The first time, she was was driving the Mustang home in a town called Gig Harbor. The second time she was driving her daughter, Tanya, to soccer practice and she was late. She was in the 25 mile an hour lane going 30-35 miles per hour. The ticket made her even later to where she was going.

“I was so embarrassed because my little girl was in the car and I got caught,” she said. “She watched the whole thing.”

She remembers that she had two accidents in the car. She couldn’t recall the details of the first accident but said she was on her way to pick up a part to repair the Mustang when a young man lost his brakes and ran right into the back of the car. So suddenly, there were two ‘boo-boos’ to repair.

The longest road trip she ever took the Mustang on, was with another teacher down the Washington and Oregon coast to northern California one spring vacation. The other teacher had never been camping so Lita convinced her to try it. It rained and the wind blew so hard the first night that their tent fell down in the morning while they were still in it and their sleeping bags got so wet they couldn’t get them dry for the whole week. Lita remembered staying in motels for the rest of the week.

Sometimes, during our conversation, Lita would get slightly distracted by the soccer game on the television behind her. She would stop to cheer for a good play, or a goal, so I asked her why she liked sports so much.

“I think I like sports because of my dad – he loved sports,” she said. “He liked both to play and to watch. Before we had television, we listened to the games on the radio or went to watch them in person. I like the idea of playing as a team and learning sportsmanship – how to play fair, by the rules and support your teammates. I also think sports teach how to be a good winner or a good loser.”

Her favorite team is the Seattle Mariners. She will watch almost any sport but baseball and football are the ones she likes to watch most.

I learned a lot about Lita over the course of the interview. For example, I had no idea that she was into girl scouts! I would never have thought about it or asked at all. I also hadn’t ever imagined what it was like for her growing up, or where she lived. Each question I asked produced an interesting and intriguing response. I loved finding out about what she did in the summer because it was fun to compare it to what I do in the summer. I have always enjoyed listening to stories from my grandparents and think this was a great experience. I adore Lita, and I can’t wait for the next time I see her to talk to her. I have many more questions to ask her outside of the interview.

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