There are lots of names children use to identify their grandmothers. Baba. Nana. Grammie. Maw Maw. (That would make grandpa, “Paw Paw” and, if he was trying to quit smoking he might wear a Paw Paw Patch. Okay, that was a long way to go to make a weak joke about something many people, today, have never heard about, but I did it and that’s all there is to it.)
I was lucky enough to live just a few doors down from both of my grandmas. The one on my father’s side was slightly shorter than the one on my mother’s side. So, being a brilliant child, I called them Big Grandma and Little Grandma. My grasp of the simple and obvious has always been quite keen.
Big Grandma, Ann Christine Larsen, was born in Wisconsin on August 11, 1905. That same day, President Theodore Roosevelt made a speech in Chautaugua, New York. For some reason, he did not mention my grandma’s birth.
Big Grandma passed away in February of 1999. A few years later, thanks to the kindness of my Missouri cousins, I came into possession of her Bible. It is the King James Version. (I know there is a LeBron James joke in there somewhere but I’m coming up dry.) In tiny print, on the first page, it says “This book is thread sewn. Opens flat.” I think that is a harsh judgement. I’ve always thought, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” was a pretty solid opening for a book. Certainly not “flat.”
It also says it is a “Self-Pronouncing Edition.” I’ve listened very carefully on each page and never got any help with pronouncing. Yes, I’m looking right at you, First Book of Chronicles.
While I am sure my grandma turned to her Bible for inspiration and comfort, she also turned to The Good Book as A Good Place to put things of personal importance. As is the case with many families, her Bible became something of a filing system. Of course, she wrote down the birthdays of all of her 11 kids plus grandchildren. She noted weddings. In 1947, alone, three of her children were married. She saved those small “In Loving Remembrance” funeral cards, including one for Caroline Marie Larsen. At the bottom, in Big Grandma’s writing was: “my mother.”
But, she also stuck lots of other odds and ends between the pages.
For example, right behind the front cover is a yellowed scrap of newspaper with the headline: “Policeman Shoots Polar Bear Who Killed His Mate at Zoo.” At first glance, it appears the policeman’s mate was the one killed but that’s not the case. The opening sentence of the article states, “The animal colony at the Racine Zoo had a murder and an execution Wednesday afternoon.” All you need is to have Jack Webb read that line and you’ve got a brand-new episode of “Dragnet.”
Why my grandma saved that gruesome story, I don’t know. But, she did.
In 1953, her children and their families, gave her a Luzerne watch. She saved the guarantee and the gift tag.
So far as I know, Big Grandma was not big on numerology. Nonetheless, she held on to an article about the date 8/8/88. It is stuck in the same page as a 1959 telegram announcing that “Uncle Otto died Funeral Saturday 10AM at Church.” I never knew Uncle Otto. In fact, until I looked through this Bible, I didn’t know Uncle Otto existed. “Otto” is Italian for eight. Was Big Grandma planting the 8/8/88 story next to Uncle Otto’s telegram to send a message? Somebody contact Dan Brown. I think we have a new storyline for the next Da Vinci Code book.
From the pages of The Eau Claire Leader, is a photo of a group of happy children at a dance recital. One of them is a granddaughter of Big Grandma. But, the picture on the other side of the article is also worth noting. “Suit of Patches Made by Tailor in German Town.” The man’s name is Tannenberg. He’s wearing a suit made of 96 patches. His face seems to say, “Yeah. It’s a suit made of patches. So? Wanna make something of it?”
This was his second attempt. His first “suit made of Papier-Mache” got him arrested for indecent exposure when a sudden rainstorm blew in from Heidelberg.
Speaking of things found on the back of other things, on the back of one newspaper wedding announcement was a list of “Newsy Notes” including this one: “Miss Gladys Peterson of Eau Claire spent the weekend with her mother.” Frankly, in this day and age, I would like to hear more news like this.
I am not sure what this represents.
A snake in a test tube? A large hoagie with a donut chaser? Whatever it is, I don’t think it would pass muster at a TSA checkpoint.
There is also a lock of hair kept in wax paper. Not sure people do that anymore. It would come in handy as DNA evidence if Dan Brown ever gets around to writing that book about the 8/8/88-Uncle Otto mystery.
A strip of negatives is also saved. For those young ones out there, a negative was a photographic image that showed the reverse of light and shade from which a regular print was developed. Today, when it comes to photographs, “negative” refers to the way many of us feel when we see something posted on somebody else’s Facebook page that makes it seem like their life is way better than ours.
Big Grandma, of course, never had a Facebook page. But, she did leave behind an entire book of pages filled with laughter, tears, history and mystery. I consider her Bible, “The King James Version with an Assist from Big Grandma.” Assist? That’s almost the elusive LeBron James joke.