Monday, February 28, 2011

Grandpa's birthday

My grandfather turned 91 years old this past week. This weekend, my family gathered at his and my grandmother's home (grandma is 86) to celebrate with a feast of soups and chili, cold cut sandwiches, salads and of course...cake.

It's an amazing feat to turn 91. My grandfather, actually starting last year, has expressed every year since then that he cannot believe that he has made it to his current age. He talks of how his own father passed away at 86 years of age and how he never fathomed living to see 91 years old.

While this is a subject that my grandfather finds so unbelievable (and it is!), a subject that I find  even MORE unbelievable when I think of my grandma and grandpa is all of the technological advances and changes that they have experienced in their lifetime. Included in these changes, is the notable difference in consumerist patterns.


My grandmother and grandfather, offspring of German immigrants, grew up during the Depression Era. As we all know, these were especially hard times. From stories I've been told, my grandfather grew up in a poor family. He did not have the money to go to school and had to be working when he was young. Education is something he finds very important for his grandchildren. When he finally met my grandmother, they decided to get married and have a family of their own. At that time, he also did not have the money to purchase his own farmland. Luckily, my grandfather was able to obtain some land from my grandmother's family and finally, years later, was able to purchase a farm of his own. Despite my grandfather's lack of schooling, I've been told that he was a most excellent and wise farmer. I've heard my father reminisce in the past about the amazing farming skills and knowledge that my grandfather possessed. Rightly so, as he and my grandmother successfully raised five boys and, by the time I came around, my grandfather had a huge farm that he maintained and yes, owned.

Occasionally, my family and I chat and poke fun at the habits that my grandmother and grandfather have when it comes to saving and reusing things. It is not meant to be negative, but I frequently think of it as our own lack of understanding as to just how difficult things must have been for them at times and how little we can actually relate.

Dad as a youngster.
My grandma and grandpa must have been amazing when it came to spending, not out of desire like myself, but out of necessity. I frequently ask my father to recount stories previously told to me about the way he grew up. Candy and sweets, something I consider an almost obligatory and unquestionable part of childhood, were not a regular part of my father's childhood. Instead, trips to a bakery, once a month I believe, were made where they lined the bed of a truck and shoveled all of the day old baked goods into the bed. Later, they would sort these baked goods at home between what was salvageable and what wasn't. They relished in the sweet breads that were edible and that was likely all the sweets they had. Of course, my dad did not grow up with a television, (I don't have one out of choice), and if I remember correctly, one was finally purchased when he graduated from high school. Plumbing? Nope. Yes, in the cold Minnesota winters, an outhouse was in use. I believe that my grandmother churned her own butter and also made her own soaps. My grandmother was also a seamstress and I imagine that many of my father and his brothers' clothing was handmade.

Grandma and I
Despite the few giggles that my family and I share about my grandmother and grandfather's habits at times, I ultimately think of my grandparent's as the ultimate frugal beings. Yes, perhaps some of their habits are odd to my family and I, but I can only imagine that so many years of practicing these habits, always preparing for the worst - the crop that is destroyed by storms, necessary machinery unexpectedly breaking down, cattle falling ill -  makes them very difficult to break. Just in the same way, my spending habits are equally as hard to break. I am most certain, that I could stand to learn some of the skills my grandmother and grandfather possess. This blog is for grandma and grandpa, strong survivors of the times - through and through.

Do you have any relatives with whom you can relate this story? What are their stories? What could you learn from them?


  1. Matthew10:32 PM

    Great post alyssa. Was interesting to hear some details about grandma/grandpas stories that represent history our generations should not be oblivious to. You and your sister both share a talent for prose as well. Keep it up!