When we decided to start this blog, it was quite a process to come to an agreement on a name for it. There were many good ideas, everything from Elysian (paradise) to The Bending Willow, and what seemed a hundred other different ideas. First, we quickly learned that there are A LOT of blogs out there, and most blog names have been thought of and taken. We also learned that coming to a group consensus as an Anderson (stubbornness is a trait) was even more challenging. And we learned further that we had to have a focus for what the “feel” of our blog would be. Considering it is “4 sisters and a cousin” (also a name we considered, along with SisterCousin, but we thought maybe they both sounded slightly redneck??), it was obviously family and then we decided that the blog would be open after that to whatever ideas that any of us wanted to blog about (family, fashion, sports, movies, decorating, style, food, exercise, etc).
Okay, so family….. So, considering that our grandparents are what started this pretty amazing family (if I say so myself), we decided that we wanted to incorporate them into our blog. A few top contenders for our blog name all centered around our grandparents names, Oscar and Elsie. We tried Elsiesgirls, Oscarsgirls, OscarandElsie, Oscar&Elsie, Elsie and Oscar, and so on and on an on, all coming up “taken”. I mean WHO KNEW Oscar and Elsie were THAT common? And so we agonized, argued and struggled for days to come up with a name.
I am not even sure who finally came up with the name The Art of Anderson (Ally possibly?) but it seemed almost as soon as it was said, we knew it felt right.
So The Art of Anderson was est 2018 as our blog and away we set to ideas and inspiration.
We have blogged about a variety of interests, all stemming in part from our Growing Up Anderson.
What does that mean? I like to think in a word, humble, and truly there were no two people more humble than my grandparents, Oscar and Elsie, aka grandpa and grandma.
Looking back, I am overwhelmed by the memories of growing up their granddaughter.
Grandpa. 100% Swedish and every bit the part. Quiet, stoic, calm and slightly introverted with an easy smile and sparkling eyes. Rarely did he show much emotion, and his hugs were always a simple lean-in while we wrapped our arms around his thick neck and broad shoulders. As evidenced by the below picture, even grandma got the lean-in hug (that was also mastered by my dad).
Grandma. 100% German and also every bit the part. Direct, traditional, calm and organized with a place for everything, and everything in its place. Grandma was a contradiction, soft and hard all at once.
They seemed an odd pair at first glance. Grandma being as tall, if not taller than grandpa, with darker hair and sharp features. Grandpa was lighter in complexion, with a round face and softer features. This is how I remember my grandparents mostly, and later with just a little more gray in their hair.
In fact, it seemed as though my grandparents were never anything but, well, grandparents. I will never forget when my cousin Pam showed me a picture of them together when they were younger, it caught me off guard in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. In my mind, my grandparents were the two “old” people on the farm, and to think of them younger and “courting” seemed a disconnect for me. For Pam though, she loved to hear grandma’s stories and all the little facts grandma shared with her. Pam was always a bit more of a romantic than I was in our youth, which made her more curious about grandma and grandpa, bgk circa 1960’s (before grand kids), which just never seemed a reality to me. To see them in this picture, polished and almost worldly, also did not seem a fit for the hard working grandparents whom I loved to spend time with on the farm.
In time they had 4 children, Ray, my dad, Lavilla and Larry (sorry Larry, I don’t have a pic of you!). I laugh a little at that because that’s what happened in my family. By the time Chad came along there wasn’t time to find the camera, much less take pictures. I often wonder if there were camera rolls that just never got developed! 🙁 I look at this picture below and I now know EXACTLY where I get my cursed facial expressions from (I cannot hide my emotion much). Look at my dad (on the left), I am giggling…..oh dad!
In truth, I never understood their relationship, although it seemed to work. I always felt like grandpa was in grandma’s shadow, quietly supportive. My grandpa was a man of few words. In fact, I rarely remember him saying more than a few sentences, unless he had company over, then my grandpa turned into a man I didn’t recognize. He would sit, arms across his chest, deep in conversation with quiet laughter now and again.
When we would be at the farm, he would go about his day, usually riding around on the tractor, the Allis (which for most of my young life I thought was ALICE after my sister!). I will never forget the day I learned that it had nothing to do with my sister Alice/Allyson at all. I learned that the hard way via Daren. I love my brother but he LOVED a good teasing when it was a bit deserved, and he could be relentless! Honestly, grandpa always seemed “old” and I blame his knees (Anderson knees, our ‘Achilles’), it aged him before his time. He would hobble around the farm, doing what he could, and most often riding around on ‘Allis’ ;), taking in the activity around the farm. What I remember the most was that grandpa had three favorite spots to sit. One was by the windows at the dining table in the kitchen. The other in the old rocker in the corner in the den. And the last, on a metal chair under the clothesline in the yard. As he got older, you would almost certainly find him in any one of those spots. In my mind, I can see him as though it were yesterday, sitting in his rocker in the den. We would come in, “Hi, grandpa!” to which he always answered “Hi!” back, and then we gave him a hug. He would do the lean-in knowing it was coming, arms at his side and I would wrap my arms around his thick neck. He smelled of aftershave and a light sweet sweat each time, I loved his smell. He would smile and lean back and then he was, well….just there. He would sit and enjoy the activity around him, while dozing occasionally.
My memories of grandma are much more plenty. She ran every aspect of the farm in some way. Looking back I am unsure how she kept up all those years. At any given time she had at least half-dozen kids running the farm, often more. For SO many years she mended our cuts, cleaned up wounds, kept us clean and washed our clothes, and fed us three squares a day. She found the time to always make a meat and potato meal, and baked what seemed non stop (we raided her ice box regularly for her famous chocolate chip cookies). And she had the best pantry stocked full of fun treats.
When we would sleep there, she would tuck us into our beds, and we would giggle as quietly as we could but our fun would always be short lived with a, “quiet, its bedtime!”. We would whisper some more, and still she heard, “I said quiet!”. We knew when to stop and settle in for some sleep. Grandma helped to raise more than her fair share of children through her years.
For all of that care taking, I will never say that grandma was overly warm. She was sensible and factual, and you earned her respect by being respectful. She also raised us to be strong, she detested weakness. I remember when I would cry, she would pick me up and carry me into the bathroom, prop me in front of the mirror and say, “Do you see what a bad face you make when you cry? You don’t want to cry and make that face do you? You are too pretty to make such an ugly face.” As I would look in the mirror I would think, <yeah my face looks pretty ugly when I cry but it hurts….> Although every time I would stop crying, even if it hurt.
To this day, if I cry, I think of those times and say to myself, “I know what my face looks like right now, it ain’t pretty, stop crying already…..”
I rarely remember getting in trouble with grandma. In fact, I tried hard to fly under her radar, although it didn’t always work. We were kids, and there were times that we were too adventurous, or we would tease the boys. Each time found me in front of grandma, and as much as I tried to stand tall against her, I was quivering on the inside. I mentioned earlier that grandma was tall. She definitely wasn’t a small woman, and her stature alone unnerved me most of the time. She was almost always intimidating to me, and those times I was naughty found me shaking in my shoes. However, it was often a verbal scolding, and her words alone were enough to send me off, resolved to apologize to my annoying little brother!
As children we were quite thin. I always remember grandma saying that she thought we were too thin, and sickly. One time I remember that she insisted that we clean our plates at supper. I wasn’t that hungry (I am fairly certain that a few heists from the ice box full of cookies didn’t help). The other kids finished their dinner and went to play, but I was having a horrible time choking down my potatoes. See grandma was ‘old school mashed potatoes’. She literally mashed the potatoes on the plate and poured milk on it as she smashed the potatoes with a fork. I will simply say, it wasn’t my favorite thing to eat and grandma almost always made potatoes, like every day. I know my grandma meant well, so she dished me up a rather large plate of potatoes this day (too fatten me up and make me less sickly). Truly, we were thin and our eating habits were not great. She was trying to make a point. What started as a lesson, quickly turned to a test of wills. We are both stubborn, and so I mostly sat and stared at my potatoes, saying nothing and not eating, stubbornly making my point. She stood close by, also making her point that I wasn’t slinking away. And finally, I knew she would win, so I tried hard to swallow those cold, chunky mashed potatoes, but mostly I just gagged on them. I was trying to fight back the tears. And that is how it went for some time, me gagging and fighting back tears, and grandma standing close by. Suddenly, there was a loud BANG! and everything on the table jumped what seemed an inch in the air, including my plate! My grandpa, who had been sitting across from me bellowed in a voice I had NEVER heard before, “Woman! Leave the child alone, can’t you see she is full?!” From the corner of my eye, I could see my grandma jump and turn toward grandpa all at once.
I sat stunned, with potatoes falling out of my open mouth. Who was this grandpa? I had never heard him yell at grandma before, not ever. And then I thought, “oh no grandpa, you’re in BIG trouble now…..”. I sat waiting for grandma’s retaliation but from the corner of my eye, I could see her quietly fold her towel over the side of the sink, and without a word she left the room.
What just happened?
I sat un-moving and staring straight ahead. I was unsure of what to do, eat my cold potatoes, or run?
Grandpa: Go and play child. It’s okay.
Me: <threw my arms around his broad shoulders, and then ran out the door>
In that moment, my grandpa became a hero to me.
Somehow word must’ve gotten back to my dad, who found me later in the tree house. It was dark (not uncommon for us to be out after dark on the farm), and I was determined to stay away from the house, fearing grandma’s wrath.
Dad: You coming in the house?
Dad: I know what happened with grandma. She means well. It’s okay. Let’s go in the house. <holding his hand out to me>
Me: <taking dad’s hand and thinking that he was one of the few people that seemed to never draw grandma’s ire, so I was safe as long I was with him>
In the house, grandma didn’t say a word. In fact, it was as though it never happened. She ran my bath, put me in clean clothes, gave me a snack to eat on the way into town, gave me a hug and waved us a good night as we headed for home. Grandma never again did make me eat cold, chunky potatoes. That day our test of wills was shortened by my grandpa, in a rare display of emotion and patriarchy.
It may sound like my grandma was cold and callous, she wasn’t. She was stoic and proud, and showing emotion was foreign to her. For all the ways grandma wasn’t soft, she was still agreeable and welcoming. She also loved to teach us new things, and she had so much patience to help us learn them. She especially loved to teach us how to function well in the kitchen. I remember helping her peel potatoes. She initially had me help her using a potato peeler, but I was always so mesmerized by the fact that she used a paring knife when she peeled potatoes, only removing the skin and never wasting any part of the potato. I asked her to show me and to this day, I can peel a potato with a paring knife, almost as well as my grandma.
She quilted like no other. Beautiful quilts with what seemed a million different pieces. There was never anything that went to waste. Old clothes found new life as a quilt, and so often grandma gifted us with the quilts she made.
She crocheted beautiful doilies and she stitched flowers on kitchen towels.
She gifted us with many of these treasures through the years.
She never sat idle. Honestly, I am unsure she slept as it seemed she was up well after we went to bed, and she was always up first thing in the morning, ready with a hearty breakfast.
As I said, she was a contradiction, soft in her own way and hard all at once. My relationship with grandma was always a bit more complicated.
If you have read some of my posts, you will also know that my relationship with my own mother was also complicated. For most of my life, my mom and my grandma were at odds. I alluded in my post A Life Misunderstood to the fact that my mom was often upset at the obligations that pulled my dad away from home, and to his parents farm. Grandma and I often sparred over my mother. Grandma finding fault with mom, and being angry at her for what grandma felt were mom’s failings as a parent. Probably not unwarranted in some instances as grandma often picked up the pieces also from mom’s lowest years. However, as much as I could find fault with mom, I defended her and protected her from grandma. This made grandma upset at times. It was an impossible situation. I loved both grandma and mom, and to make them both happy seemed an impossible task. Each so angry at the other. Often they would call and each would curtly ask for dad, nothing else to say. There were no family gatherings for many years.
That was how it went for many years……until about the last decade of grandma’s life.
One day I got a call from mom.
Mom: Are you coming home tomorrow still?
Me: Yes, what’s up?
Mom: Grandma called and she needs a few groceries if you can bring them to her.
Me: You mean grandma called dad?
Mom: No, she called me.
Me: <stunned silence> Umm…what?…she called you?
Mom: <laughing> Yes, Elsie calls a few times a week. I also call and check up on her when dad’s gone for a few days (dad drove semi-truck across country as well as farmed)…… <she said this like it was a normal thing>
Me: <Hell has frozen over!>
Writing these posts are so helpful. It’s amazing how short sighted one can be in looking back, and how often we can let the negative overshadow the good. I had forgotten about mom and grandma being “friends” after such a long war. It is amazing what time, wisdom and need can do for a person. Grandma found an unlikely friend in mom, to help her when she was old and alone. And mom found peace with a woman who for so long seemed her enemy.
After losing grandpa, I made it a priority to see grandma whenever I was home in Marshall. I would stop in, at times with my boys in tow so that they could spend a little time with their great grandma. They would wander the farm a bit while I chatted with grandma in the house. It’s funny though, the farm I grew up on and loved was a foreign idea to my boys. I knew every nook and cranny, we played what seemed on every inch of that land. We hid in each building, jumped off most of the roofs, swung on the rope from big red barn and hid in the upper loft. We ran the fields and played tag incessantly. When my boys were there, they wandered around, unsure of what to do. Often, they were shortly at my side, and I would have to leave and grandma always looked a little sad. She loved the visits from us, the kids she so willfully helped to raise for so many years. She would literally talk for hours when I would visit her, the same stories over and over again. However, each time I listened intently, comforted by her words. Often she would send me home with a trinket that she had cherished for years, much of what sat in her curio cabinet went to her children and grandchildren. She gifted me years ago with this delicate little butter dish. Somehow this little gem has survived years of moves, and still sits proudly in my memorabilia cabinet.
My sisters would also get out to see grandma when they could, again bringing their kids. I believe that grandma loved to see what her and grandpa started, all the life that two people brought forth.
My grandmother lived through some heartaches. First losing my brother Daren, she was devastated. Then losing grandpa, she was strong and willed grandpa to let go, and rest. I was in awe of her selfless strength. And then my dad. My dad had been an every day figure in my grandma’s life, for much of his life. They depended on each other, in a way. When my dad died, grandma was very heartbroken. I remember her saying that she never wanted to outlive her children, and seeing him ill was beyond hard for her. I remember dad telling me that he didn’t want to go to the farm any longer after a certain point in his illness, as it caused grandma too much anguish. This pulled at my heart so much.
Me: …but dad, grandma will want to see you….
Dad: It’s best she remembers me as I was, strong and healthy. She tries to pretend it doesn’t bother her to see me like this, but I can see that it bothers her.
I would call grandma from time to time while dad was at my house, or she would call me. She would always say a few words to dad. Just one time, when dad was hanging up I heard this…..
Dad: yep, me too. <paused> I love you too ma. <it was said so quietly that I almost missed it and I could hear the raw emotion in dad’s voice>
That was the only time in ALL my life I ever heard that said between them. My heart hung heavy, and I couldn’t help but put myself in grandma’s situation with thoughts of my own boys. It would kill me when I imagined myself in that same scenario. Her heart had to be the heaviest in those last months.
After dad died, my brother Lon would also spend time on the farm when he wasn’t working. He loved to ramble around the place, work on cars and he thrived in the open air at the farm. He would also be sure that grandma had the things that she needed when he was around. And of course, Randy, ever the unwilling patriarch of the family, ensured that grandma’s needs were always met through the years.
Of course, after we lost dad so much of grandma’s care fell to my aunt Lavilla. She ensured that her mother was safe, even making the difficult decision to place her in assisted living closer to her, once grandma became to frail to live alone on the farm any longer. Of course Larry and Ray contributing in whatever ways they could in helping grandma through the years.
For so long grandma kept her mind. Even when I would go and see her in the care facility, she knew who I was and would ask appropriate questions of Bruce, the boys, my siblings and yes, even mom. However, one of my last visits to her found her strapped to a wheelchair, tootling around the facility using her legs and she barely recognized me. It broke my heart. This woman who for my whole life was sharper than a tack was suddenly struggling to know me. There were very short moments of acuity, but then she would almost forget I was there and tootle away again. I knew then that it would be a matter of time.
Shortly after that visit, my aunt Lavilla called to say that grandma wasn’t doing well. I took a couple of days and traveled to Montevideo, and helped to care for grandma at the end. I will never forget looking at this tiny, withered woman and thinking that she resembled my grandma still, and yet she was just a shell of the vibrant woman who for so long helped to raise me.
After losing grandma, things changed even more so.
I wrote about losing our childhood home in my post When Home is no Longer Home, and then when grandma died, it was sort of the last part of our childhood gone as well. The farm that we had loved for so many years passed to my brother Randy. It was now his place, his home. Truly, the best scenario as he also now rambles around on the farm, restoring buildings, and cleaning up what for many of the last years had been somewhat neglected. He is now the caretaker of the memories of our second childhood home.
I remember being young and everything moved what seemed so slow. I wished much of that away, as do many of us when we are young and now I find myself wishing that I could go back.
I would’ve not snuck so many cookies, and I would’ve eaten those chunky mashed potatoes for a lady that was simply trying to show me the importance of health. I would’ve spent more time in her shadow, learning more about her ideas, and being watchful and learning from her strengths.
One memory I have is being the backseat of grandma and grandpa’s car, with my brothers going to church. It took a lot for grandma to get Daren to go, but he was there with Randy and I (myself also a little reluctant). We went to church, and I sat like a princess at grandma’s side in a dress (a very rare occurrence) that she pulled out from drawers of clothes that she kept for us in her bathroom. After church, her and grandpa visited with the other parishioners and my brothers and I ran around. I remember on our way home, sitting with my brothers in the backseat and looking up to the front, at my grandparents who I loved so much. I remember watching them from the back, their gray hair and wearing their Sunday best dress clothes, and feeling a sense of calm.
That’s what grandma and grandpa often brought to me. Calmness, with a sense security.
They also provided me with years of memories of a life shared with my family that included siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, as we spent time learning to love the very land that they had worked so hard to establish. They gave selflessly to their family, and they lived the most humble of lives, thankful for everything they were blessed with, and using everything to it’s last end. We learned to love “old” items, and we learned to refurbish furniture, and our homes from the example they set for so many years.
So there is our story behind our blog The Art of Anderson.
It is honoring our humble beginnings, while always dreaming of a better life. It is sharing our tidbits of lifestyle that was learned from two pretty special people in our lives, that were and are the reason we are all here……