Published July 9, 2023

Talk to Grandma

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan

A Slice of Life

I’ve known I had to write about this for quite some time but couldn’t really settle on a way to approach it.

Delay. Delay. Delay.

Finally, I came to the realization that was precisely the crux of the entire matter. As Nike says, just do it.

I know what you are thinking – this kooky writer is the last person on the planet to follow for advice and please get back to the topic of the headline. Right you may be, but there is ample reward for those who read further. Clever, huh?

Alright, here goes. Blunt. Simple. Rewarding.

Talk to grandma. Not just about grandkids, weather, recipes and such but about life. As her what like was like when she was a child. Maybe her first pet, what would she buy with a quarter in her pocket, what games did she play, when and how did she meet grandpa. Anything really, but ask.

When my second grandmother passed, I realized I hadn’t talked to her enough about those “early days”. I did some, but not nearly enough. It seemed awkward somehow. Not for her, but for me.

She and grandpa settled in the small town of Parshall. The old house is still there. I drive past it on occasion, always stopping to remember things like playing in the yard, grandma carefully decorating the Christmas tree with ornaments she’d saved over the years, and how wonderful a cook she was, and how she carefully cared for flowers in her garden.

We had a few visits that remain in my memory. Grandma wasn’t what you’d call long-winded, but there were some real gems. I wish I had been far more inquisitive than I was and had written a few things down.

One day, guessing sometime around 1970, I asked my grandmother about construction that was underway at the old O&M elevator in Parshall. My grandfather managed that elevator for a few years, so my grandmother was familiar with it.

She told me that trucks bringing grain to the elevator were getting bigger and the new construction would accommodate them. Of course, there were a lot of the older, much smaller farm trucks in use at the time as well, something I mentioned to grandma.

Then she responded with somewhat of a surprise to me, saying those old farm trucks were a big improvement from the days when horse-

drawn wagons would bring grain to the elevator. Grandpa heard part of that conversation and recalled a few of the best teams of horses in the region. It was a reminder of just how important horses were at one time.

I remembered grandpa’s comments, in general anyway. I’ve long since forgotten the names of the horses in the teams and who owned them.

A few years later I came across an old Bismarck Tribune story while doing research for a book I was writing. A sheriff and a marshal drowned while crossing a frozen Missouri River with a wagon and team. While the story noted the loss of the two lawmen who were “swept under the ice”, there was at least as great an emphasis in the article, if not more, on the very tragic loss of two good horses. Grandma and Grandpa would have understood.

One time when grandma was outside, she looked up at an airplane passing high overhead. Then she told me a short story about when she witnessed the first airplane in Parshall and how it scared most of the people in the area who’d never seen such a thing.

She said the plane was flown by a “barnstormer” who was among some of the earliest flying enthusiasts in the United States. It landed at Parshall, roadway or field, I can’t recall if grandma said which it was. I do remember she said it was a cause for great excitement and that people were somewhat cautious about approaching it. She laughingly called it the first UFO in Parshall.

Grandma shared a few other things too, so did grandpa, but those are the ones that are first on my list. They just struck me. I think about those memories of memories from time to time. Mostly, I wish I had asked more questions, which is the reason for this writing.

My grandmother watched in person as the first plane landed in Parshall, North Dakota and watched on television as the first man landed on the moon. Just imagine all the happenings in between. I wish I knew more.

Ask grandma, or grandpa. Someday it’ll be too late to do so, and you’ll wish you had. Write down the words while they are still fresh and tuck them away in a scrapbook or file on family history. Better yet, record them. Shoot video. Someday you and your kids, or grandchildren, will treasure the results.

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