I hope these words don’t seem naïve or irresponsible. Yet I heard these words or words a lot like them during the Trump administration, and it was Dan Rather–a voice from the “older generation” in the sixties–who said them. I believe that the key to American success is to have our feet grounded on who we are, and yet our sights into a future free of COVID-19. I always feel–I was born in 1978–that I have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, and am in a tenuous position as trying to balance my priorities. I will explain why. I have no problem with Black Lives Matter or taking down Confederate statues. The latter seems long overdue, in fact. More, I firmly believe and wish that other people would do it: take your COVID-19 shots, down to the booster shot that you are supposed to. Yet I wish young people would appreciate that in the past America has been great, and that no people is “self-creating.” All of us come from somewhere.
My Grandma Williams (Frances Westin Williams) was the child of Swedish immigrants who travelled to the New World, because they did not have enough to eat in Sweden. They moved to a little Sweden in Kansas, “Scandia.” Periodically, Mom and I go to visit their graves or another “little Sweden” Lindsborg, where there are Swedish and ethnic shops. (There is even one Mexican and one Chinese one, for all that traditionally the place has Scandinavian roots. Still, this only adds character to the little town.) Grandma grew up in the late 1800’s, going to school in a one-room school building. She was valedictorian of her class. Then she went on to college at Washburn (a college in Topeka) where she was the first female editor of the Washburn School Journal.
However, times were hard and the only job she got afterwards–in the Great Depression–was as a Social Worker in the Dustbowl. She even wrote an essay about it I typed up on my computer for a book I hope to eventually put into a book about her. As a Social Worker she met and married my Grandpa, Frank Williams. He was a farmer, and for the rest of her life until their retirement, she was primarily a farmer’s wife. I do not think she was always happy–I think she wanted to be more than a wife and mother–but she did make sure that all three of her female children went to college, even if they had to get jobs to work their way through school before the sixties had really begun.
There was one tragedy greater than simply having to be a run-of-the-mill housewife in Grandma’s life: Uncle Charlie was born mentally handicapped. He was unable to read or even control his temper. Because he liked fire too much, he had to be hospitalized. He lives in a hospital today, and–sadly–he contracted COVID-19. I believe it hurts my mom a lot that he is so sick, and so when I am watching myself I include Uncle Charlie in my prayers.
Grandma in her older years wrote poetry–it is not great literature but it proves she had an active mind. I remember her love of the Roosevelts, the Democratic Party, and baseball. One of her regrets was that though she could read, write, and speak Swedish, she could not study the country Sweden. That is why I am trying to do it now at 43, because it would make her happy, though as she said, “I am not truly sorry our ancestors moved to America.” Despite this, Mom and Grandma went to Sweden together. As for the Roosevelts, they were like gods to Grandma. People forget in our conservative-dominated era, that people were really hurting under laissez faire capitalism. More, despite the real-life problems Eleanor and Franklin had with each other, the myth they wove for the public kept people alive. I remember Grandma commenting, “Poor Eleanor, she was so plain,” and the story of Franklin’s mother visiting the White House, “Franklin, eat your peas.”
Grandma’s faith was also sincere. I have Grandma’s Bible–Mom gave it to me–and it proves that between 1980 to 1994 she read her Bible 10 times. When she did there was a large crowd of people from family and her church listening to a sermon the minister gave about the old lady and her devotion to family, country, and God.
My only doubt about becoming Jewish–years after Grandma’s death–was that she was so committed a Christian. Yet I know she and Grandpa wait in Heaven and watch over us. I am sure even during COVID-19, they are praying for Mom, my Aunts Margaret and Clara, Margaret’s husband Uncle Jerry, and especially Uncle Charlie. I am sure she watches over grandchildren and great grandchildren, too. That is why I am so touched that Mom gave me her Bible. It is also why I am glad I shall write a book about her. I encourage other people my age and younger to get to know their grandparents before they are gone. They will never be sorry. More, whether they are there or not, never be afraid to look up who your family was before you were born. Grandma taught me that by looking up all her family and Grandpa’s. I looked up my Grandma and Grandpa Alderson’s families on my own using ancestry. Some day I may write about them, too.