Note: Like my previous post this is a bit too long – it’s a series of journal entries but it didn’t feel right to post them separately. And again, I would love for you, my readers to enjoy reading this but mainly it was written for myself.
For a while now I have wanted to glean stories from Grandpa Benike but Grandma’s death pressed me with urgency. I would have loved to have visited him right away in August or September but I have been so busy with the farm work. Also, others were spending more time with him, including my dad. I finally have time to visit Grandpa but his health is failing so now I’m not sure I will be able to collect all his stories, however I am praying I will. I am interested not only in Grandpa’s stories but also his parents and grandparents, as far back as he can go; also if he knows anything about Grandma’s family history, I would love to hear that too. Questions I desire to ask:
- How did our family come to live on the farm? When? Where did they come from? Why did they come? Tell me about them, their story. (The photo on the wall, who are they?) Did they homestead the land? What was the reasoning for choosing this farm? Was the landscape of the farm different then? How so? How did they farm? Tell me stories about your grandparents and parents – how they lived? Who were they? I want to know everything you know.
- Tell me about your childhood. What it was like. Fond memories, bad memories. What chores did you have to do? What was your playtime like? – Hunting? Fishing? Pranks? – What were your thoughts? How were holidays celebrated? What was school like? How did your parents farm? What was farm life like when you were very young? How did farming change? What was daily life like? Born in 1930 – depression, World War, electricity and household appliances, improvements of farm equipment, are just many things that occurred – what was it like?
- Meeting Grandma. Courting. The wedding. Early years. Farming as a husband and father. Changes to your farming methods. Gardening and preserving too. Daily life. Specific memories. Celebrations. Fun. Did you live the life you wanted to? Feelings? Thoughts?
- Life as a grandfather and great grandfather.
More notes and questions: Born just a few months after the start of the Great Depression, so your whole childhood was overshadowed by it. (Although perhaps the farm helped.) Only fifteen when the U.S. entered into World War II – what do you remember of those times? (Rations?) Changes to farming – horses to tractors, milking by hand to having machines, ect. Electricity, indoor plumbing.
October 13, 2020
I called Grandpa on Tuesday to see if I could come visit him but he didn’t answer. I was bummed. On Thursday, I found out why I couldn’t get a hold of him; he was in the hospital having trouble breathing. I prayed. I prayed all weekend he would make a quick recovery and would be back home on Monday and feeling well enough for a visit within the week. However, this morning, I saw I missed a text from my brother, Jonathan last night which read, “Dr. says that Grandpa has days, might be weeks to live, Grandpa wants to come home to be with family.” Noooo!!! Not Grandpa too, dear God, not Grandpa too, no yet! I sobbed, even as I told Jesse, who immediately pulled me to him and held me tight, trying to comfort me. He said, “Doctors are often wrong about that, they’re only going off numbers, stats, room for error.” It was a challenge to stop the tears. (I was about two weeks too late.) I prayed the doctors had it wrong, that it would be many months, perhaps a year or more. Jonathan, Mom and I prayed together for Grandpa’s recovery – our hearts can’t handle it so soon after Grandma.
October, 25, 2020
Grandpa came home on Wednesday the 14th, and I was able to visit him on Friday. He was tired, his voice softer and with less authority or something. He was happy I came. John and Dianne were there looking after him. Dad arrived; I had to walk right past him to leave – that was difficult and uncomfortable. It was hard not to cry, seeing Grandpa not ready to die but figuring he is because the doctors said so. I cried on the way home. How will I get alone time with Grandpa now? And his stories? I prayed. I was back on Wednesday and then again Friday this past week. Grandpa said to come again. On Friday, Mom and I picked the apples still on his tree. I have cried many times and pray many times a day that he would recover and stay around for at least another year. I desperately need to be able to collect his stories from him directly – it would help with closure, give me and the rest of the family a piece of Grandpa to hold onto and be here long after we are gone.
November 1, 2020
I didn’t visit Grandpa this past week, but I thank God he is still alive and hopefully I can drop in this week even though it will have to be short. Still praying for complete healing of his lungs and strength for his heart. Sorrow still threatens to overwhelm me and it is challenging living in limbo, wondering if the next text will be the bad news.
I feel like a lesser child of the least child. Dad was a mistake, a surprise after five years thinking they were done having kids. Dad grew up feeling worse than unloved, unwanted. Now, due to human failure at good communication, a person can be loved, and be told they are loved and yet not know they are because they don’t feel like they are. I won’t judge my grandparents, but I have been told that Dad became their scapegoat. Actually, after the abuse and he was arrested, I had to struggle with anger toward them because they raised him – he left their house depressed, with multiple personality disorder, so they played a role, however unintentionally, in the hell I went through. After Dad’s arrest they didn’t treat Mom very kindly – but they were hurting and processing too. So in my young teen years they weren’t in the picture much. But slowly, I forgave them and invited them back into my life.
Grandma and I had never been close. I always felt like she was disapproving of me, that she thought I wouldn’t amount to much, that I was always falling short (of what I have no idea). My early memories of Grandma were of a cold, harsh, scary woman. I suppose we just didn’t click or I was so different she didn’t know what to do with me. (I may not have been an easy child, I don’t know.) She seemed very critical – but she was a woman who spoke her mind and I have always been someone who can’t handle criticism even when it is given constructively. I have struggled for most of my young life wondering why Mom and Dad gave me her name as my middle name; even often angry about it – I feel like we were just always at odds. And yet I know she loved me. She always wanted a hug, and as she got older a kiss, and she verbalized it. I can’t recall if she said “I love you” when I was a child but every time I said goodbye to her in the last ten years she said it and meant it. As Grandma began to lose her short term memory, slowly over the last five years or so she became softer, more tender, a better listener. I have comfort in the fact that she was proud of me for being the wife of a dairy farmer, a noble status in her mind. Also a source of comfort, Grandma was at my wedding and enjoyed herself – even though she didn’t remember it five months later; she enjoyed looking at the photos. I envy the close relationship my cousins had with Grandma. I think our lack of close relationship is why I am struggling with her death so much, why nearly three months later my grief is still very fresh and at times overwhelming.
November 1, 2020
I want Grandpa to answer these questions for me; I want to sit together one on one and have the stories come pouring out of him. His children can probably tell me some of the stories but it wouldn’t be the same – the feelings and thoughts about experiences would be missing. Also the connectedness, the experience of listening to Grandpa’s storytelling would be missing. Unfortunately though, it is now looking very unlikely as Grandpa is fading away – they said he won’t make it to Thanksgiving. It would take a miracle, an act of God. I can visit Grandpa but only for ten minutes or so and then I am supposed to do most of the talking. What little he can tell me about the past is a sentence here and there. And there’s no chance with my aunts hovering nearby. It may be a story about how I didn’t get Grandpa’s stories from him but rather piece it together from various family members and fill in the gaps with speculation guided by historical knowledge and what people tell me about Grandpa’s character, opinions about things, and how they think he felt and thought. I would much rather listen to him. He has an excellent voice for storytelling and I love listening. It would provide rich memories for me to hold on to in the years to come – and I could play back the recording of his voice, so it may never fade from my memory – and I could share the gift with the rest of my family.
Grandparents (December 29, 2020)
Grandparents have a special place in your heart, even if you aren’t (weren’t) particularly close to them, or perhaps more correctly they have a special place in your being, in the very fiber that makes you you. They impact you, who you become, what kind of person you become – they leave a mark. Hopefully a good mark, but sometimes benign (neutral) and unfortunately bad. Even great grandparents whom you’ve only heard stories about have an impact on who you are and what you’ll make of your life. (I feel as though I live in the shadow of my great grandparents’ disapproval – they thought a couple should only have two kids (ideally a boy and girl) and were aghast that after my grandparents had two, one of each, that they had three more, something they never got over, apparently. And here I am, the sixth child of the fifth child – so in their eyes, I’d be pretty undesirable.) Almost everyone has experienced the death of a grandparent, or will eventually. Despite knowing it is inevitable, as soon as you are old enough to understand death and contemplate it, that one day you will have to face the death of a grandparent, somehow you hope they’re immortal and will live forever and therefore are knocked off balance when you hear of their death. How can life go on? My world has just been shattered. And yet, with lots of tears and one foot in front of the other, one moment, one day at a time, you do go on, life keeps moving forward. I can’t believe the shock I felt when my mom told me of my Grandma Benike’s death. I had started the week off with an excellent weekend with Jesse (my husband), his siblings and their spouses; I was on an emotional high. Then Thursday evening approached and WHAM, Grandma is dead. I was perhaps the happiest I had been all summer and then this. It took an hour or more for my brain to register anything beyond shock.
Tears begin to flow. How can Grandma be gone? A cloud of sadness engulfed me, hovering too near for the next three months, only recently beginning to lessen – of course exacerbated by the news that Grandpa is dying and only had days or weeks to live, and wouldn’t live to Thanksgiving (so far he’s made it to Christmas).
Jan 3, 2021
I dreamt of Grandma again this morning. She was comforting me. She stood in front of and facing me, holding both of my hands in hers – not a gesture Grandma ever did with me. She didn’t look like herself but somehow I knew it was her.
We didn’t play outside at Grandma Benike’s as much as we did at Grandma Mullin’s, and often when we did either Grandpa or Grandma was close by watching us, or at the very least Grandma watched us from the kitchen window. It seemed like there was a little less scope for the imagination than at Grandma Mullins; we often played outside there, with very little or no supervision with a lot to inspire us – but that is its own story. (Mom told me a couple months ago that the reason why we played inside more unless we were supervised, at Grandma Benike’s, is because she was so concerned about us kids running onto the very busy highway and getting hit by a car.)
Jan 9, 2021
Although I was probably there often, my memories of Grandma and Grandpa’s from an early age are few and vague. But here’s a few things I do remember. Meal times. Spaghetti. Grandpa would cut our spaghetti noodles into small pieces with the edge of a fork, making sound effects as he did it. Bibs that were merely just towels with a head hole, would cover our entire laps. Chocolate milk, we only got that there, and apple juice. Toast with strawberry jam and usually Grandma’s chocolate cake, a family recipe. There was something about sitting on those kitchen chairs. The smell and ambiance of the house. Grandpa reading books to us with added sound effects, fighting over who got to sit in his lap (I don’t remember but we probably took turns at that.) Grandpa washing our hands and faces with a wet washcloth. When we were there by ourselves, no cousins, we had the whole big place to roam with the toys – legos in the sitting room, racing cars in the dining room, little people climbing the buffet as their mountain. (We very rarely played with our cousins, other than maybe share toys and space with them because Isaiah, Jonathan and I were between cousins in age such that seven of the cousins were much older (closest being a couple years older than Isaiah) and four were a bit younger (a year or two younger than Jonathan), which didn’t make for closeness.) There used to be a tropical tree in the corner of the dining room, which became part of the play. Playing with the little fisher price, round people in the playroom. Playing “house” with the dolls. Extravagant plots with the barbies upstairs in the bedroom. Big slinky down the stairs – sliding down those stairs on our backsides. (Sometimes Isaiah and Jonathan played with the cars or legs and I played by myself with other toys. The cars and tractors weren’t as fun to me.) Often Grandpa played with us, lying on the floor zooming cars, pulling tractors and plows, or even walking lego guys. Grandma often sat knitting nearby. We played games like Hungry hippo and a fishing game. If you ran through the house with socks on, you could slide – Grandma did not encourage this. There was a big, all black house cat, we probably tried playing with it, but it would not tolerate us.
Outside. If I recall correctly, when the whole family gathered, when it wasn’t winter, there were a few ball games played. I wouldn’t have gotten in on these, I don’t think. Whether the whole family was present or Isaiah, Jonathan and I were there being babysat, we played in the sandbox, situated between four trees. A picnic table was often near it, probably so Grandpa could sit and watch us. We had big trucks and tractors for that, and old kitchenware too which I preferred. There was a double glider swing too that we loved – it seemed so big, I remember being scared of getting on and off of it. Grandma preferred either her or Grandpa to sit on it with us when we were small. The former summer kitchen was a source of imaginary play too, it was somewhat our playhouse. Cats roamed the yard, often becoming part of our play if we could catch them. I am not sure if the old barn and granary were strictly off limits or if because we were always closely monitored we never explored and played in them, because they would have been excellent morsels for the imagination and as forts. Of course cold weather was not a deterrent to playing outside. We’d bundle up and play in the snow with such tools as sleds and toy shovels. When we went in, being on the verge of becoming icicles, we were served something hot. Again, my memories are vague and incomplete – I can feel it, especially those darkening winter nights, so wonderful, but I can’t describe it.
I wouldn’t want to do childhood over again, particularly school and the pains of growing up, and yet sometimes I wish to go back to it, maybe just a visit – and then record in writing every detail, especially feelings and thoughts I had and a complete account of the elaborate stories I came up with for my brothers and I to act out in our play, the dialogue especially, some of it was quite clever. If only there was a way to recreate it or go back and observe, listen and record. I would love to be a little girl again, tucked in on Grandpa’s lap and him reading a book to me. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by nostalgia and what had been. (If I had only known then that I’d wish to have a written account of those times, of time spent with Grandma and Grandpa, his sound effects he made to everything, what we had played, and then actually had written it down.)
The hardest part about Grandma’s death and Grandpa now living on borrowed time is that it feels incomplete, I feel as though there was more of my life I wanted to share with them, particularly my writing and photography once (if) they become more than a hobby. And what will happen to the farm? Will I still have access to it? Oh, how I miss Grandma, and even Grandpa, how he’d been five months ago.
Feb. 15, 2021
Regret. After guilt, shame and pain have diminished, regret lingers on, threatening to overcome you. Life can’t be lived without regrets, sadly, at best you can try to minimize it and not dwell on it. I wish I had spent more time at Grandpa and Grandma Benike’s, especially as an adult, further along the path of healing, and by myself. I wish I had asked them to tell me their stories, everything they could, and listened intently and recorded it. I wish I had gone through old photos with them and asked all my questions. But I didn’t and now it is too late. In less than six months they both passed away. It is a regret I may always live with, but see, I didn’t know or feel like I could visit them whenever I wanted to and certainly didn’t know I could ask them to tell me their stories – I didn’t realize until too late that I was welcome anytime. I loved them and they loved me and yet I was always unsure about our relationship. But they were there for me at school programs and plays, birthday parties, and my wedding.
Feb. 16, 2021
Grandpa’s funeral was too short – not enough was said about him in my opinion. The pastor talked about Grandpa’s faithfulness but it wasn’t enough. No mention of him going to the grave in a coffee can. Not enough said about his playfulness. Grandpa read us books – we used to fight over who got to sit on his lap – with extra sound effects (rubbadubdub in the tub or something like that.) Pushing us on the swings, playing in the sandbox, little machinery on the dining room floor. Hugs and kisses. The sweet smell of his tobacco; I am going to miss that smell. (Ps. In June we had a meal with the family again to honor Grandpa and sure treasured stories and memories of him – it was a sweat time.)
December 28, 2022
I still dream of them, alive and well. I wake with hope that they’re both still alive and then reality comes crashing in; they’re gone. But perhaps those dreams are a gift because they are kept alive in me through the dreams.