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 Helen's Memories


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Grandma Christiansen

By Helen Joan Christiansen Crump
April 1997

Whenever it seems appropriate to relate my experiences or advice, I have never passed up the opportunity to tell a captive audience that living next door to your grandmother while you were growing up is a wonderful foundation for life.

I was born and spent the first twelve years of my life in the north side of the duplex at 1389 Major Street. Grandma and her family (which diminished over the years) lived on the south side of that duplex. As far back as I can remember, she was there within easy access. Our two front doors were side by side and it was easy to skip from one residence to the other by this means. However, the most exciting and courageous way to move between the two homes would be to go down our back stairs, through the dark and surely haunted basement, and up the stairs onto the landing, and into Grandma’s kitchen.

The following are a hodgepodge of memories that spring to mind when I recall Grandma Christiansen and those first years of my life. Being the fifth grandchild of Grandma meant that most of the time I could snoop around without being noticed, and I managed to observe bits and pieces of life there on Major Street.

Probably one of the first memories to come to mind would be the houses across the street. There was a neighbor there who had a touring car that we would all gather to on Sunday morning with Grandma and Marlene and whoever else was there. Then we could gloriously ride off to Jefferson Ward for Sunday School. We were always sent to Sunday School with Grandma because Mother and Dad never, ever went. Grandma was anxious for the children of our family to go to church, and so we did.

In 1942 Dad was foreman at a job in Dragerton, Utah, and I suppose that Grandma was concerned about my church attendance because before we left she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She said if I didn’t miss one Sunday going to church, she would buy me a Nancy Ann Storybook Doll. She would allow me one missed meeting for the transition period, and I took the opportunity to miss. After the challenge had been met, I asked for the Tuesday’s Child doll, and I went every day to the post office in the general store waiting for that package to arrive, and eventually it did.

Being around Grandma was always exciting. She had to work for a living, and I suppose she always looked for ways to bring in some extra cash. I recall once going into the kitchen and seeing spread all over the table all of these pictures of women in glamorous attire (drawn in the style of Erte). There were fabric swatches and lots of excitement. It was almost like being in Hollywood. When I was around ten or so I remember she had a suitcase full of jewelry. There were watches, sparkling necklaces, and so forth. That Christmas I got my first watch.

One very unusual occasion was the dinner served at Grandma’s at a big table in the living room-dining room area. The entire meal was prepared in the “Silver Seal Waterless Cookware” by the salesman. This was indeed a very new way of nutritiously preparing food. I don’t know who bought them, but my mother cooked in those aluminum pots and pans for her entire life. When Dad was working in Ogden, he and mother and Hal went to live in a summer home in Ogden Canyon.

Whenever Dad and Mother were out of town working, we would stay with Grandma, and she would get us off to school. We would stay with Grandma until school was out for the summer. We would return to stay with her when school started in the fall, and so our schedule would evolve. This was true before we went to live in Ogden Canyon for the summer and again when we moved into our new home on 1940 East and had to finish school. Dad would drop us off in the morning and pick us up after work. I never felt we weren’t absolutely welcome because her home was our home.

I don’t know how Grandma earned her money because it seemed that she was always at home when I wanted to see her. I do remember going downtown on occasion and working with her cleaning offices. I think that we went to an office building on South Temple west of Main Street. I recall it as something like the Union Pacific building. I was often given a dust cloth and told to dust the desks, but mostly it was just an exciting adventure. Remember, only the very sophisticated women like those in the movies would have a job in an office. This was sheer fodder for an active imagination.

Another experience was at hand when I would accompany her to clean in the local motels. Cabins, I had stayed in, but never a motel. I don’t think I was ever given a dust cloth for these work parties. As a young housewife and mother I also got to accompany her and Aunt Esther now and then while they cleaned offices, only this time I would be paid.

When I went to the temple the first time, it was in Hawaii and unlike the young girls of today, I knew nothing about what would be going on, much less having someone accompany me. I did know about the garments, however. Grandma wore garments, and this curious child had seen them enough to know what they looked like. I got my first real look at the temple garments when I slept with Grandma in the same bed in a cabin at Yellowstone Park. She said they really kept her warm, and she didn’t need a nightgown.

Remembering Yellowstone Park, the most wonderful time was when Grandma accompanied the family on a fishing trip. They were always called trips never vacations. On this particular trip there was a boat with a small motor, and we were at the Fishing Bridge area staying in cabins. Everybody got to go fishing in the boat, but Grandma and I were left on shore. We had mulled around and tried to catch a fish from Fishing Bridge, but we had no success. Finally, the fishing party came in for lunch so Grandma took me, and we slipped out to the boat at the dock. Grandma rowed the boat because we didn’t know how to run, much less start, the small motor. After Grandma baited a hook for me, she rowed down the channel near Fishing Bridge. Then a miracle happened, as we trolled with Grandma handling the oars. I got a bite! She then directed me in reeling in the fish, and she netted it. She took the fish off the hook, baited it again, and began rowing. Up and down the channel we went and caught about four or five fish with her propelling the boat with the oars. Soon everyone on the bridge was on our side watching us. Then we saw Dad and the rest of the fishermen return to the dock so we stopped our fishing and returned to the dock. When we got there, Dad asked why we came in, we were catching so many fish. We just naturally assumed that they wanted to go out as soon as possible. But everyone was impressed, and strangers asked if we were the fishermen who caught all those fish so close to Fishing Bridge. We were even celebrities. Too bad I never learned to like the taste of fish until I was much older. I do remember when we did eat fish with Grandma, she always told us that the eyes were really the best part.

Grandma had a wonderful instrument, a piano. Another very rare item was always on the music holder of that piano, a Church Hymn Book. I believe Aunt Esther played the piano, but I envisioned myself at a very tender age as a concert piano player. I not only could play; I could compose. I certainly do not 115 know how she could tolerate those constant soundings on the keyboard, but I never recall her telling me to stop because she had a headache, which I probably would be inclined to do had I been her. I must have composed and played incessantly. I did ask her once which was her favorite hymn in that Church Hymn Book. She told me she liked “Do What is Right”. I think it might have been a lesson for me.

One of the earliest memories I have about her side of the duplex was in the middle of the living room. There was this hole in the floor that afforded a diminished view of that dark mysterious basement that housed monsters even Steven Spielberg would have been fascinated by. I would have to run so that something wouldn’t reach up and grab me when occasions necessitated my passing over this crevice.

Everything exciting happened at Grandma’s. Once there was a party, I think it was a shower of some type because only women were there. Of course, they all spoke very fast Norwegian, and I didn’t understand anything. I suppose I was there for the beginning but was sent to bed as I probably became tired. The next day there was much ado because one of the ladies had been robbed. There was speculation that perhaps someone knew about the party and had slipped in the back door as all of the coats and purses were on Grandma’s bed in her back bedroom.

There were always welcome visitors coming by. Grandma had lots of children. Simon was just ten years older than me, but we came and went scarcely acknowledging each other because he was so, so, so much older. I do recall his sleeping on the front porch during the summers which seemed awesome to a young girl. Visitors included aunts and uncles and cousins. One of the more glamorous persons to be there was Twyla. Shortly after she and Uncle Wally were married. She was such 116 a pretty lady, and she would play Pick Up Sticks with us.

I don’t recall anything about a wedding, but it seemed that all of a sudden Grandma moved out and took up residence on Seventeenth South about Sixth East. I did know she married O. B. and was now Grandma Turner. It was a long walk to her new home, but I soon became familiar with the route. She seemed to dig right in and begin raising children not much older than me. During that time we seemed to have a lot of old family portraits taken. Then all of a sudden a very sad atmosphere fell over the house on Seventeenth South, and a lot of angry words were expressed. I had no idea why, but then Grandma was back on Major Street and the unheard of word “divorce” was mentioned. The most difficult experience for me through all of this was that Grandma moved into the little bedroom in the basement. The door was always locked, and I could hear her in there crying, which seemed to me to last forever. Grandmas aren’t supposed to cry.

Nothing was ever quite the same for me after that. I started to get older, and we made preparations to move to a new home, but the hardest change was when Grandma married Art. She never seemed quite the same except for those occasions when she was without him. Now she was Grandma Lawrence.

In 1958 I had my daughter in California on December seventeenth. The arrival of a new child so close to Christmas meant that there would be no trips to Salt Lake for the holidays or visitors from “home.” Grandma and Art, however, were in Oakland spending Christmas with Art’s daughter and her family. They all came to visit us after Christmas. Of course, I was happy to show off my new beautiful daughter Anita. Grandma said she was certainly beautiful, but she was not as beautiful as her children were. I thought that this was a normal thing for a mother to say. When I recently saw baby pictures of my father and his 117 brothers and sisters, you know what, she really did have beautiful children.

In about 1959 my new little family moved back into Grandview Ward, and we were back to being in church together again with Grandma. The Relief Society President, Sister Wimmer, assigned Grandma and me to be visiting teaching partners. We had several sisters to visit, and Grandma always decided when we should go; but I was to give the lesson, and 20 minutes was the limit. During these times, she would relate how she had been to the temple with her girl friend Sister Hendrickson, who lived across the street from her place there on Twentieth East. She told me, “Don’t you think I can have ‘girl friends’ like you?” I knew she had girl friends. There was Annie Kershaw, for one, as well as those women from the ward.

When I was suddenly widowed in 1961, my own mother wanted to know if there was anyone I wanted to call or have her call. My first thought went immediately to Grandma because she was the only one I knew who would understand what it was like to be widowed. She and Aunt Esther rushed right over, and she was indeed a comfort. One piece of advise she gave me was to marry again. I asked her why. She said it is too lonely to go all those years without someone. I told her I didn’t understand that because she always had all of us, and she belonged to us especially when we went on trips. She said everybody had been very good to take her places and be with her, but she said it was not the same as having someone of your own. She also said that when she married O.B. and then that didn’t work out, she just couldn’t go back to being alone again, and that is why she married Art so quickly and perhaps not too wisely.

Two years ago, my oldest grandson was called to go on his mission, and he asked if I would come to the Stake Offices the night he was set apart. As he was being set apart, I had a feel118 ing that Grandma was there. It was a very strong feeling, and it came from out of nowhere; I just knew she was there. They had a time for the bearing of testimonies after Dan and two other missionaries were set apart. Almost all the people in the room participated in sharing their testimonies, but the tears were flowing so hard, I couldn’t tell them of my feelings, especially that my grandmother, Dan’s great-great-grandmother was with us. It was a choice experience for many reasons. I suppose she was allowed this experience because I am certain it is a joy to her to know that her joining the Church had resulted in the fervent testimonies of so many of her progenitors. I know I am grateful every day for her joining the Church in Norway, traveling to Salt Lake, and then encouraging me to join and rear a family in the Church. She is a great woman.

These are remembered impressions of a young girl and a sixty-two year old woman of a grandmother who not only endowed me with some great genes but set a legacy of which I am proud to be a recipient.

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