Grandma Ellen

Yesterday I learned from my mom that my paternal grandmother, Ellen, would have turned 100 years old on Feb. 18, 2016 — if she were still alive. Wow, that’s a little mind-blowing. I’ve been pondering this since, and doing the math backwards, and it means she was 34 when they adopted my father, which I think was really an unusual age to start raising kids back then. She was an amazing yet difficult woman to know, let alone love.

In my memory she was most often cranky and brittle and telling people what they were doing wrong. That’s the hard part. I also remember her telling me wonderful stories about her life. Stories about meeting Grandpa Vern in Panama — she was a civilian working for the Navy as a secretary and he was an officer; about meeting my father’s birth mother before the adoption; about driving a car after the steering wheel had come off — to the great amazement of the mechanics when she arrived at a garage; about adopting my two aunts in Germany; about my grandfather running a circus for the local lions club for years and actually turning a profit for them. She also tried to teach me Spanish when I was little but she lived too far away then to really make any headway, but she tried.

In the photo here, the baby is my youngest sister, Janelle. Grandma Ellen is actually smiling in this photo. A rare enough thing. I think she might have been the happiest I’d ever seen her, when she was holding that baby. In the photo below, she’s sitting with my Grandma Delores, I think the first (only?) time they met.