This post marks my 1,000th post here on History By Zim! To celebrate this milestone, I thought I would do a more personal post.
I get asked every now and then why I started this website. What motivated me to create, maintain, and sustain this – at times – expensive ‘hobby’? For me, the answer is quite easy. I love history. More than that though, I study and write about history because I fundamentally love hearing and sharing people’s stories. While I dabble in a plethora of history branches – political, gender, economic, military – I always come back around to social history. I write what interests me. From posts about random topics, such as Oregon being the state with the most ghost towns or the more serious post on the deadly Tri-State Tornado of 1925, I like to think there is a little something for everyone.
The fuel that ignited my fascination with history came from many different sources. Previously, I wrote about my life-changing experience visiting with a Holocaust survivor when I was in high school. My love of history, however, extended far before that pivotal moment in my life. When I was young, history surrounded me in the form of four very important people in my life – my Great-Grandmothers.
I grew up on a farm in a rural setting – one of those places where everyone knows everybody. While my mother was at work, my sister and I spent our time in the tractor with our father or were shuffled around to our nearby grandparents and great-grandparents. The thing about growing up in such a setting is the intimacy one has with their family history. Family events (which were plentiful) were about reminiscing about the ‘good ole days’. The same stories tended to pop up every now and then.
“You know your Great-Great-Grandpa got struck by lightning once,’ a relative pointed out nonchalantly as if reading off the week’s weather from the daily newspaper.
With eyes wide as saucers I responded, “No, I did not know that!”
“Ohhh yes! He was out in the pasture. Ya know he should not have been out there during a storm but there he be. Stubborn old man he was! Well, anyways, he was lucky he did not fall out of the wagon. The horses brought him back to the barn.”
As a child, I tried to soak up these stories of my ancestors and those who came in contact with them. Over the years a few became foggy while others were lost as the time passes by. Some even seemed far-fetched (one involved the famous outlaw Jesse James which I researched and is not quite as far-fetched as I once thought). These anecdotes laid the foundation for my passion for history – for stories.
I have fond memories of the four women pictured above. I understand how lucky I am not only to have met all four of my Great-Grandmothers, but to remember them as well. They were remarkable women who all loved and cherished their families. This photograph sits framed on my bookshelf between photographs of friends and leather-bound classics. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of those precious years I spent with them and the lasting impact they had on me.
Great-Grandma Irene holds a special place in my heart. She often babysat my older sister and I when we were young (around the time of the photograph above). She only lived a half a mile away. I have vivid memories of helping her gather the eggs in the morning from the chicken coop. She would show us how to gently move the chickens aside so we could get the eggs. My sister and I would grab the lower ones while she did the higher ones. Grandma Irene had a drawer full of gum, a basket full of toys, and would do just about anything for you – literally. One time, a pesky rooster kept pecking my sister and making her cry. Grandma Irene would not stand for that and chased the rooster with a hoe. Let’s just say, I’m pretty sure I know what they had for supper that night. . . . In 1995, she passed away at age 85. I have never gathered eggs since.
Great-Grandma Ella baked wonderful desserts. I think that I might have gotten my love of sweets and aptitude of baking from her. I do not remember as much about her as the other three. My mother thought this was interesting as she babysat us quite a bit. However, she was a little on the quiet side. When she walked into a room, she did not monopolize the attention. The wife of a farmer, “Ma B.” (which is what we all called her) was a hard worker who enjoyed sewing and quilting. I remember her being very kindhearted. She passed away at the age of 89 in 1996.
When I think about the one thing that stands out for me when remembering Great-Grandma Adeline it is her smile. She always had a smile on her face when I was with her. She also liked to laugh. I recall her generosity and how comfortable I felt around her. When my mother was little, Grandma Adeline would take her and her siblings to the zoo. Grandma Adeline always had popsicles and baked tasty pies. She worked for a time at a Fanny Farmer store and had cool, antique toys that oozed history. Grandma Adeline passed away in 2001. She was 87.
Of the four, Great-Grandma Marguerite was the “people person” – she had a passion for socializing. Besides being an excellent seamstress, Grandma Marge was the first female Mayor of her town in 1958-59. Additionally, she had an amazing work ethic and was the first president of the town’s VFW Auxiliary. One of the many things she passed down, was her lefse recipe – a tradition we continue to make to this day. I remember her vivacious personality. Up until the age of 75, she stilled went water tubing (she only stopped after she wiped out and lost her wig). What I remember most about her was that she thought I was a funny kid and would laughed at my stupid jokes and antics. She passed away in 2003 at the age of 90.
To me, history is about the exploration of people, events, and periods. It tells us how we are different. But, just as importantly, it tells us how we are the same. We see ourselves in the people of the past. I see myself in the four women above. Nevertheless, people have many different layers. Underneath one layer is another. Each layer makes us unique, it makes us humans. It is both difficult and exhilarating to peel back each layer, uncovering what was once hidden. History, as a whole, is the same – full of people and events which are intertwined in remarkable ways. It is not always easy to see beyond the surface, but it is, without a doubt, worth the effort.
Thank you all for your wonderful support! Here is to the next 1,000 posts!