Grandma T

7 billion people on our planet?!?!?? Holy cow! We’re maxed out! And I also see that the East Cost is getting pummeled by snow – hope everyone is doing ok.

This past week I went through well over 100 letters that I had saved up from Grandma and Grandpa T. I got a notion to do this while Grandma T is still alive – and just decided this past week was the time to do it. The letters made me laugh and reflect and be thankful, and I am very grateful that I put out the effort to write to them & that they wrote back fairly frequently over the years. Here are some of the nuggets that resonated with me that I thought others might enjoy. This got a bit long so sit back and enjoy 🙂

I found it fun that almost every letter started with the temperature, a weather reference and a garden update. I don’t think it is ever 70, sunny and nice in Rochester 🙂 Or maybe they had better things to do than write to me on the beautiful days!

I also was amazed at how many broken bones and other ailments struck all branches of the Thompson Family Tree over the years! Amazing how many letters talked about someone in the family going to the doctor for this or that. I laughed at ones where Grandma would tell about something like accidentally stepping on a toothpick in her kitchen that stabbed her between two toes. And it’s so easy to picture this part – she said her foot was really swollen and draining so over a week and half she treated it on her own with alcohol and iodine and only then went to the Dr. (at which point they gave her a tetanus shot, antibiotics shot, triple antibiotic ointment, and pills). She had to go back a week later to get more shots and more pills and stay out of the sun. The week after that she got even more pills and still no sun. And I’m fairly certain that if she got stuck by a toothpick again in the future that she’d once again go back to her trusty alcohol and iodine first! Here’s another example of injuries that made me laugh by the way she told it. “Brandon wants to only wear those baggy pants. He caught the leg in his bike, ran into Linda’s car and smashed his face into the B. window.” 🙂

Grandma had many references to time going fast and a changing world (e.g., “time goes faster and faster”; “enjoy every minute – time goes fast.”; “birthdays come around every year – might as well enjoy them!”). I remember talking to her when she was 95 and I asked her about playing cards with people and she said, “who has time for that?”. Here were some glimpses of her trying to piece together a changing world. She wrote about one of the grandchildren wanting paintballs but she wasn’t really sure what they were and how much damage they would do but could only find a case of 1000 balls which she ended up buying. Or saying “I can’t keep up” while referring to getting 3 discs of pictures from a few different people. And she wrote about having to buy gift cards that grandchildren started requesting as presents – “Have always thought they were stupid”. Referring to my blog, “these odd new words” and “When you get to be 98 – you will wonder how you did all that!”. And don’t be jealous but I was the one to get her very first 37 cent letter 🙂

I also love the language that Grandma used. Here are some of my favorite examples: calling mailman ‘stage coach’. I’m not sure if she ever used the word baby or the word money by itself. She referred to our children as “sprouts on the Thompson tree” or “little bits” (e.g., “hear there is to be another little sprout on the Thompson tree” and “come on Little Bits”). When she sent money she would say, “Wells Fargo’s ‘saddle bags’ were getting heavy” or “girls need some ‘pin money’ to get started”. I also liked when cards would be addressed to “Master Christopher Thompson”.

I laughed at some of the things she had to go through as she got up in years. She wrote about having a wisdom tooth pulled at 96 or 97 because it has a big filling out. Her comment was “thought I’d keep it as long as I could”. And I laughed again reading about her getting summoned for jury duty at age 96 or 97. She was surprised that she got a letter and that there wasn’t an age limit so she showed up and sat through part of a morning session. But she couldn’t hear anything that was going on. She finally found someone who understood that she wasn’t hearing much of anything and they let her go home. I’m not sure that I’d want an 96 year old person who couldn’t hear my case deciding my fate 🙂

For as many positive comments that she had on the garden and vegetables (e.g., “Can’t beat tomatoes and beans right out of the garden”), I found it funny that she also sent me this note: “Suppose you are busy in your beautiful yard. Darn it – they all take work!! Would be nice to have a gardener and you could sit and enjoy it!”

She also had several bits of advice for Colleen (and also for Megan later on) about how to manage and get along with a new brother. “you will have to sit on your brother”; “Brothers like to tease sisters and make them cry. Hope you two girls will get in his hair and show him you like to play but not be teased a lot.”

And of course Grandpa wasn’t as verbose and instead got straight to the point. I always liked his advice and know that the closer I stick to the following nuggets the better my life will be:

  • “You pretty much get out of life what you put into it. This is one part of life and a big one to remember, why settle for the brass ring when you can reach out and get a gold one? Give life your best.”
  • “As time goes rushing on and you become a college student we hope you don’t ever turn out to be a know it all. We are proud of you and happy that you have the chance and good fortune to be where you are. Don’t let opportunity pass you up, it is always there.”
  • “Remember the advice from your parents, study hard, learn a lot, and have some time for relaxation and fun.”
  • “We do need a good rain so whatever the good Lord wants is fine with me.”
  • “In my case (now) I wish I could go back and stretch and use my potential. I’ll confess I was content to just get by. I would sure like to be in your shoes. We have seen so much in our lives and now with a new century coming soon and just getting in space and learning more of our universe. I pray we will learn to live together and get along as God hoped we would.”
  • “Be careful as you advance in years and always do your best.”
  • (this one seemed a bit out of character for Grandpa – made me laugh) “Are you learning about being a merchant and operating a successful business?…Do something big, become famous, get on TV or the radio.”
  • “What stays in the human brain can mean big things to come.”
  • “God wants us to live good clean lives, serve him and to love him and lead others to him. I hope you find or have found a good church and become a part of it.”
  • “You are possibly dreaming of a car and going to college. They are both good ideas. The college education might have to come first but so many don’t see things as I now do. If we can learn to live on this planet together peacably, the next century will be exciting. I hope to be here to see the year 2000 come in and I pray the good Lord lets me. Our generation has seen and done so much you will have a hard act to follow. Good luck and do your best always now. Don’t let mistakes get you down, we all make them and it doesn’t make you a failure.”
  • “I have minded Velma, when she says jump, I ask, how far?”

There were also some sadder memories when Grandma was writing about Grandpa near the end. It showed how she always seemed to take things in stride. “We had 63 years of that ‘Better or Worse’ and the worse is here now. We have been lucky with the whole family. It doesn’t bother me to stay at home. Never did go a lot.”; “these tarnished Golden Years aren’t so great! So enjoy moving with ease now.”; “For the first time in his life Gates will have to go to the next size shirts, etc. Hard on the ego! He says it is muscle! It is going to his tummy and the roll around his waist.”; “people are always asking how I am doing, – all right I guess. Naturally it is much different but we have to accept it. After all – he was just existing – not really living. I had to do everything for him. The last couple weeks he couldn’t even get a drink for himself. He did not talk but the silence is different now. He would finally get out couple words when he was asked something but that was all.”

On my birthday one year she wrote about my parents not being able to find them to tell them the news: July 14, 1971 and – your Dad could not find any of us to tell! It was the eve before our 1st Round Barn Festival. We thought sure you would wait until we went up and looked at ‘Old Things’ in the store windows as we would have time the next day – Sat. Your Dad could not get us or Phil’s till about 9:00 p.m. to say His First Son was here – or there in Duluth!”

And a letter was rarely complete without a reference to God: “Wishing you the best. God’s blessings too.”; “We are proud of you and hope and pray God will continue to bless you and each of all of us.”; “God sure has been good to us.”; “God’s love and ours.”

A few years ago I read The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, by Dr. John Izzo. The five secrets this book identifies were derived from numerous interviews with “tribal elders” from around the world: be true to yourself; live no regrets; become love; live the moment; and give more than you take. This book suggested that you ask your own family’s tribal elders the following 14 questions. Grandma wrote me answers over the course of a few letters. Maybe she would have responded with more detail had I asked them a few years prior but there is still plenty of wisdom in the following.

1. Pretend you are at a dinner party, and everyone is sitting in a circle. The host invites each person to take just a few minutes to describe the life he or she has lived. If you were at the party and you wanted people to know as much about your life as possible in those few minutes, what would you say? Describe the life you have lived thus far.

I was always shy. In those days you knew what had to be done and did it. We lived in the country and went with horse and buggy or walked. I helped with the house work and cooking. Part of the time walked a mile to school. People had telephones but it rang in all the houses and you could listen in – carefully – reach time it rang. Neighbors not real close together.

2. What has brought you the greatest sense of meaning and purpose in life? Why does it matter that you were alive?
I knew what had to be done and did it.

3. What brought you/brings you the most happiness in life, the greatest joy moment to moment?
Being with people I lived with and when company came. We had a lot.

4. Tell me about a few of the major “crossroads” moments in your life, times when you went in one direction or another and it made a large difference in terms of how your life turned out?
(This answer started off fine and then Grandma started going off on some crazy tangets – which made it one of my favorite answers 🙂 ). I lived at Angola, Ind. Did private duty mostly in homes. I received a call one night to go to Plymouth, Ind for two weeks on night duty. That was in town and we had always been in the country. I had a car by that time. I went on a blind date to a wrestling match at So. Bend. About a year later we were married and lived in Plymouth. I never went back to Angola to live. The wrestling match was our 1st date – only one. I did not yell – just watched and ate peanuts. Didn’t care much for them but do now (peanuts). I went on the blind date to see who this Gates T was that I “should” meet! Later as he walked past the place I lived – he saw a flat tire on my Model A ford and had the lady ask if I wanted him to fix it. Then he asked me to his home for Thanksgiving – you know the rest! It was good for 65 years. Would you believe I never road a bike!?!! (too busy cleaning and cooking. Ha.) Only one brat had a bike in our neighborhood – and we all were too far apart – besides we crawled on our knees – weeding onions . The wind blew the muck (black dirt) and we looked like black people at the end of a day.

5. What is the best advice you ever got from someone else about life? Did you take that advice? How long have you used it during your life?
Live your life the way you want to – which I think I usually did. I sometimes ask but did what I thought was best.

6. What do you wish you had learned sooner? If you could go back to when you were a young adult and have a conversation with yourself, and you knew you would listen, what would you tell that younger person about life?
We lived in the country when I was young. It was my duty to clean the house (with a broom) and do a lot of the cooking. I knew what I was to do and did it. One accepted life as it was.

7. What is the role that spirituality has played in your life?
I went to a small country church with a neighbor in a buggy and knew about God and Jesus from about age 4. I knew one was to do as told.

8. What is the greatest fear at the end of life?
All were told two different things about the end of life and didn’t know what to believe.

9. Now that you are older, how do you feel about your mortality, about death? Not death in the abstract but your death? Are you afraid of dying?
Not really. I wondered if it is like going to sleep.

She wrote later on that these questions seem hard to answer for her. “There is part of a poem from H.S. – ‘There are many things a boy may know – but no boy knows when he goes to sleep’. I have often wondered if that is a daily example of how it is dying. We do not know when we do go to sleep.”

10. What role has spirituality and religion played in your life? What have you concluded about “God”?
God and Jesus are spirits also. Jesus has control of us. Always taught to do right.

11. Fill in this sentence, I wish I had…
I wish I had read the Bible more. The answers seem to be there.

12. Now that you have lived most of your life, what are you certain or almost certain matters a great deal if a person wants to find happiness and live a fulfilling life?
Live life as it comes and don’t gripe all the time. It’s not the other person’s fault.

13. Now that you have lived most of your life, what are you certain or almost certain does not matter very much in finding a happy life? What do you wish you had paid less attention to?
Some events turn out so much different than you plan, but take things as they come. Pay less attention to what others say.

14. If you could give one sentence of advice to those younger than you on finding a happy and meaningful life, what one sentence would you pass on?
Take things as they come. Don’t gripe about everything that doesn’t happen your way.

4 Responses to “Grandma T”

  1. Brooks Thompson says:

    How lucky you were to have developed such a great relationship with your grandparents. I had no idea they wrote to you so many times. That’s more letters than dad and I got from them over the years. Cherish all their words of wisdom! I actually remember them saying some of them at one time or another. We are all lucky to have had them in our lives and even now mom (grandma) has a sense of humor. They were always so good to me, especially after my own mother died so young. It was easy for me to call grandma “mom!”

  2. Dad and Grandpa T says:

    Sorry for not getting back with comments sooner…

    Guess I better try to catch up with some of your recent updates. I read your most recent update about the time our power went out. We thought 4 days was long enough, but a neighbor 2 streets over said she went a full week. We had a lot of limbs down in the back. I was working at them and Daniel was going to come over last Sat. to help, but Sat. morning the Stubbs (from church and soccer) called and said they were bored and wanted to come over. I started to refuse and then told Terry there are times you need to swallow your pride. Larry brought his chain saw and within 2 hours we had the backyard looking good. Now we need to catch up on the leaves before we get another snow.

    I really enjoyed your summary of Grandma and Grandpa T’s letters. It was nice you had kept them and could go back and pull some of their wit and wisdom from them. I also checked out Dr. Izzo’s link and enjoyed what he had to say from interviewing so many people.

    Speaking of so many people, 7 billion on the planet is kind of scary – especially since the world population has climbed by 6 billion only in the last 150 years or so. My advice to your “little bits” (and my little gems) is it to get a good education and apply themselves to help deal with and solve some of the challenges they are inheriting from previous generations. I’ve been catching up on movies on Netflix and have been watching a number of movies and documentaries on Peak Oil. One person interviewed believed that without fossil fuels the earth could only sustain 1 – 1.5 billion people. When you think about the worldwide demand and all we depend on that comes from oil, it does make you wonder if and how the world will be able to adapt to the rapidly dwindling supply. Many interviewed talked about the economic impact and others about wars that could be fought, as the supply becomes more limited. Some talked about human ingenuity, but wondered if humans would know and be able to react in time. Only time and God will tell. Guess we always have to have hope.

    Seeing Christopher’s picture squaring off against larger players reminds me of when Rocky (Coach Rockwell) used to tell me “hit ‘em low and harder than they hit you and you won’t get hurt.” I think he enjoyed getting me matched up against the largest player on our team in tackling practice. You can really see the determination of Megan in that soccer picture. Nice form too – looks like a real pro. Glad the sports season went well for all. Hope dance lessons are going well for Colleen and she’s enjoying learning to play the French horn. As busy as the activities keep you, enjoy these years, they’ll be over before you know it.

    I always enjoy your traditional leaf raking/playing pictures. I think I am almost ready to play in the leaves again. Not sure they would want me sitting with your family yet throwing leaves in the air, but the oncology nurse did give me a little more latitude at last Thursday’s visit. She said I can rake leaves again as long as I wear a mask. Not sure why I want to rake leaves, maybe it’s because they said I couldn’t for so long and it is a sign of progress. She seemed very pleased with the progress shown from the blood tests and even said that my creatinin reading had come down further. In this case lower is better. Mine has come down from over 5 in April to 2.06 which means my kidneys will never be perfect but at least they are improving. We had a nice talk with the nurse and I think I finally understand why I haven’t immediately bounced back after getting home. She explained that the last dose of chemo didn’t just kill the bone marrow, but it also had a major impact on other organs and tissues and it may take 3 months or more for those to heal and get back to normal.

    Back to Grandma Ts letters I could have really written a lot about my medical experiences over the past few months. I looked online last night and I have a list of 129 lab results since April and that doesn’t include all the tests done in hospitals and other clinics. We are so thankful for our medical insurance. I went with mom on her one-year anniversary knee appointment a couple of weeks ago and she got a good report.

    I thought you were kidding about Beth using pliers on Megan’s teeth, then we talked to Beth. Was that a scene similar to what might have been on a Three Stooges segment? Reminds me of when I had a wisdom tooth removed. Hope Megan is happy with the new earrings and is taking proper care of her ears.

    I looked at the link you provided of Steve Jobs and some of the other links. He certainly had an impact on the world. I guess it has mostly been good, but I’m not so sure of the social network that’s been created. I sometimes think it is more of an anti-social network as people constantly have their noses in their electronic devices and ignore everyone and everything else around them.

    The Grand Marais in August sounds good. I’ll keep working to be in good shape to be able to keep up with everyone. Still working on the appetite. Funny what is tolerable now and what doesn’t have any appeal now – looking forward to when pizza and apple pie taste good again.

    Golf cart training for a new roundabout??? Only in America. Nashua just puts them in and hopes for the best. They seem to make sense in some places, but glad I don’t have to drive through the one at the high school when buses and students are trying to get to school.

    My first guess for the picture of Christopher was his smile showing his beautiful teeth, then I noticed the memory box behind him. Both look good.

    Better close or you’ll be spending all your time reading my comments and won’t have any left to update your blog. Always enjoy the updates and appreciate all the time put into it. It’s a nice journal for your family and enjoyed so much by us and others. Thanks also for all the thoughts, prayers, cards, drawings, school pictures, etc., etc. Everything from all the family and friends have helped me get better by the day.

    Love Dad and Grandpa T

  3. Katherine says:

    Great post. I can almost hear Grandma and Grandpa saying some of those things. A few of my favorites are when I called once and Grandma told me she was “stitchin’ her britches” because she had holes in her underwear. And, also when I told her that I met Erik and I was head over heels with him, her advice was to make him mad, as that is the way to really find out what the other person is like. Great advice.

  4. Dave T says:

    Thanks for all the great responses and reminders of good times and other memories.

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