Born in 1900 was my paternal grandmother, Gloy Modesta. Of course, she always will be ‘grandma’ to me. My remembrances of her are not really the focus of this blog, but rather how I got to know her early life in a photo album that she put together and added decorations, comments, and mostly first names to each page. I think the album came to me after my dad died, and then I photocopied the book and gave it to my aunt, my father’s sister, who has since passed away. I presume now that the album is with my cousin.
We all have a common vantage point as youngsters: moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas have always been old. It’s as if they had been hatched into the world just as we know them as children. When these seniors in our lives pass away, we are jolted by the notion that we are now seen as the oldsters who seem to have no history, according to children.
Then, as oldsters, we are left in a time warp looking at photos of our then-elders and are often surprised that they had lives too before they became set in our minds as a grandma or grandpa. To children, their seniors age imperceptibly. I have often heard, “She may have been only 25, but to me, she seemed old.” That’s why I look at the photos in my grandmother’s album, to remind me that she had an entire life just like mine and that I, too, am likely to be remembered as frozen in time as an old man. Such is the way of the world, but photos help to make real what has not been known to me…Grandma’s life. This perspective reminds me of what a gentleman said during his eulogy for his mother, “My mom’s life began when I was born.”
I do remember my grandma as somber. She was not mean or cranky but very loving and kind. I don’t recall her as being humorous but serious and deliberate. In my mind, she never worked, but she seemed rich. She never sang, but she loved Lawrence Welk. She never wore pants, but women generally didn’t wear pants in the first half of the last century. She was not athletic, but she never missed a Minnesota Twins game. ..on the radio even if it were televised in later days.
The photographs of her early days (when I was half a century away from being born) tell me a different story. Grandma wasn’t always old. She had a family, friends after all. She went to a Catholic grade school and attended a public high school. She went out at 40 degrees below temperatures and loved to drive a car. She had sweethearts, visited Chicago, admired and respected her seniors, and enjoyed gags and acting silly.
As a part of this blog, I’ll share some photos that turned my ‘grandma’ from always being old to a young lady who eventually became my grandma. She had a life that I didn’t even know existed.
These photos are slightly over a hundred years old, so excuse their quality. They are enlarged if you click on them. Grandma had a dad with a happy smile and hearty laugh and a mother who liked flowers. I wonder what, in the above photo, he is holding. I never met, that I know of, any of her siblings. One was killed in a hunting accident. One worked as a haberdasher and died in Minneapolis. A third brother lived in Los Angeles and had something to do with the city’s water system. My grandma called her parents mémère and pépère. I never knew her father, but I did know mémère, whose parents were Montrealers who crossed the northern border of the United States and delivered their daughter in the first town they came to in New York.
Before Grandma had a son and a daughter, she had a godchild named Possen (this might be the last name). She had girlfriends (she called honey) and was interested in someone named Eldon. I wonder who might be the elegantly dressed man slinking a pose on some apartment front stairway in Chicago? In 1922, she was in an operetta; in 1920-21, she sang in a singing club called the Squires.
Grandma’s first and only job was to be, as she called it, a schoolma’am. In the Fall of 1920, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse with three levels of students. Two of the children were Jacobsons, the family that boarded her. It must have been an exciting time in her life but apparently not compelling enough to spend a career there in Williston, North Dakota. The landscape made an impression that she took a photo of what she saw on the way to school every day, which was taken when there wasn’t any snow! Now I know that some people did, in fact, have to walk to school in deep snow. You might recall this ‘mythical’ story of woe imposed on children by parents who try to convince their children that they have it easy.
These photographs and their comments surprised me when I first saw them, but then I was only in my 30s. I’ve aged 36 years since and now wonder how much of my life no one will ever know about. I have spent many years with nieces and nephews trying to leave them with a remembrance of my being silly and crazy. They tell me now that is what I am, so perhaps the impression has been made, If they ever can go through my old .jpg, .jpeg, .jpe, .jif, .jfif, .jfi formatted images, they too will see, as I did with Grandma, that I had a life they never knew.