Over the past couple months, my students have been reading the novel “A Long Way from Chicago,” which is about a boy and girl who go visit their grandma each summer for one week. It is set in The Great Depression and centers around the theme of family.
My students always enjoy reading the book because the main character, Grandma Dowdel is a kooky, fierce, and hilarious woman. (I strategically place this unit at the end of the semester so that it holds their attention and keeps them engaged, something that is very challenging to do by this point in the school year.)
This year, my co-teacher and I decided that it would be fitting to have our students interview a grandparent and display their interview responses on a poster for other students and staff to see.
I like to have examples to show my students, and I love talking to my own grandma, Marilyn, who is quite hilarious as well, so I called her one night after school to conduct my own “interview.”
My grandma and I have always had a very close relationship. Growing up, I lived in the country, 15 miles away from town and my school, and she lived in town, so it was easy to just pop into her house and hang out. My grandma is also the person who taught me so much about sewing and cooking, two things I value so much now.
When I was in middle school, my mom and I accidentally signed me up to be in clothing construction, aka sewing. I didn’t know the first thing about making a stitch or running a sewing machine, but grandma and I decided to take it on as a challenge.
After that year, we continued sewing together until I quit 4-H after high school (and I have to say that we were very successful as well!). I would spend weeks of my summer at her house trying to construct outfits that were practical and stylish.
Her sewing room is in the basement of her house and we would jokingly call it the sweatshop. While we loved working together and coming up with a classy final product, not all of the days were fun.
For example, I remember one outfit where we had it almost done and then I tried it on, only to realize that it was too small across the shoulders. So, after some tears (from me) and reassuring words (from grandma) that it would be okay, I ripped out all of those seams and started over again.
Grandma has taught me a lot about perseverance and making sure that you have fun during the journey.
Even today, though we live almost two hours away, we stay close by writing weekly letters about the happenings in our lives.
My grandma is one of my biggest role-models and I cherish her advice and her many stories!
What follows are some excerpts from my interview with her. Enjoy!
How did your family celebrate holidays when you were a child?
“We would always have a big dinner. We went to Grandma Mann’s house. My other grandma died when I was young so I didn’t get to know her well. Grandma Mann was about as wide as she was tall, but she was a good cook.”
How did you meet your spouse?
“I first knew who he was when I was 6 years old and I looked out the window and saw a boy. I asked my mom who he was and she said, “Oh he’s just a poor little redhead kid.” He came to my school in the 8th grade. I thought he was weird because he read the encyclopedias in the library instead of going outside to play. Come to find out, he liked reading about radios, and he even went home and made his own radio. He was also my brother’s best friend so he came over many times. We didn’t date until many years later though. Our first date was to go listen to Tommy Dorsey in St. Joe.”
Tell me about your wedding day.
“The best part was of course, having Harold back after not seeing him for 11 months in Korea. My brother Keith said, “Are you sure you want to do this, Marilyn? He might have changed.” I said, “Well, I’m not changing my mind now!” It was a beautiful wedding. We had about 250 people there.”
Tell me about the day your first child was born.
“Oh, that was good! Harold was working at his folks’ house. My stomach was upset all morning. I went down to the house but couldn’t eat anything. My mom finally convinced me that I was having contractions, and we went to the hospital that night at 11 p.m. Your dad was born the next morning. He had the most black hair. The nurses kidded me about giving him a haircut before taking him home. Oh, he was precious.”
What was your favorite school subject?
“English. I just loved school and knew that I wanted to be a teacher.”
Who are some of your heroes?
“Well, my mom and dad were, my English teacher in high school named Mrs. Woofley, and of course, Harold was my biggest hero.”
What is your opinion of modern day technology?
“I can’t really answer that because I’m computer illiterate. I still love to get letters from my favorite granddaughter, Laura. I think kids need to learn their multiplication tables the old-fashioned way and not on a calculator so they can learn to make change. I’m not the only one who thinks that way either. I was just talking to someone about it the other day.”
Tell me about some of the places where you’ve been happiest.
“Well, Hawaii, during our first year of marriage. All the years have been happy. I’ve just been happy all my life.”
Thank you Grandma for allowing me to interview you and for giving such good responses! I love you!