I recently got a package in the mail from my grandmother. It was actually just an envelope, but it was stuffed with so many things I feel justified in calling it a package. The contents aren’t what you might expect when you think “care package” and “grandma” in the same sentence, though. I tore into the envelope as soon as I saw it because there is no mail I like getting better than mail from my grandma. When I was younger, she sent me things a bit more frequently, but she doesn’t get out as much these days, so there are fewer opportunities for her to find the oddities she used to.
I’ve lived in California since 1995, and even after just a year here, I can say with conviction that I did not feel like a tourist. For some reason that isn’t totally clear to me, my grandmother began to send me anything that had anything to do with California after I moved here. I have probably received a dozen cookbooks that had some kind of California theme – the best are those from the 60s and 70s, complete with handwritten notes in the margins from whomever tried to tweak that recipe for Peach Waldorf Salad.
If it said San Francisco, there was no chance she would pass it up. My grandma is a thrift store shopper. If there were thrift store shopper jobs, she’d have made a very successful career of it. Before she retired, she worked in Downtown Sheboygan, within walking distance of three different thrift stores. She visited each one weekly during her lunch hour – St. Vincent’s on Monday, Goodwill on Tuesday, and so on. Between the downtown stores and a couple she’d hit on her way home after work, she went to one thrift store a day, every day of every week. When I was a kid, we occasionally donated clothes to Goodwill. We soon realized we needed to tell Grandma ahead of time, though, or she would buy back the things we’d just donated and they’d be waiting for us the next time we visited her.
I had a small ceramic planter in the shape of a cable car, a book or two about Alcatraz (in fact, if I remember right, even an Alcatraz cookbook), a set of coasters with pictures of famous San Francisco scenes – Lombard Street, The Painted Ladies, the Golden Gate Bridge. She sent small wooden cable car Christmas ornaments painted garish shades of red and green, a copy of Tales of the City, and the occasional San Francisco or Yosemite calendar, and a cribbage board with a picture of the Golden Gate.
In the past few years, I’ve also started to receive obituaries – a zillion of them. The genealogy bug bit me a couple of years ago, and Grandma is the biggest fan of my detective work. I have traced her ancestors that emigrated from Germany to Wisconsin, and found her 3rd great-grandfather living in an insane asylum in the 1910 census. She is always eager to hear any random tidbit of news I find, and I just wish I had more time to spend on research now that I know how much she enjoys it.
The latest package, which prompted this post, was all about my genealogy research – well, almost. First was an article about an upcoming PBS series about genealogy, then came two horrific stories from the local paper about a relative that attacked his wife because she wouldn’t give him cigarettes and the garage door remote control. As I said, not your typical care package from Grandma, but since I started all the genealogy work – the family dirty laundry is no longer left hidden… Finally, there were four obituaries, each with a hand-written sticky note attached.
Any key points of interest in the obits are highlighted in yellow to aid me in following who these people might be. The note attached to one obituary for a woman whose last name I didn’t recognize, read “Louis is brother to Grandma Emma.” It took me a second to find Louis highlighted in the newspaper clipping and then I recognized his last name as the maiden name of my grandma’s maternal grandmother. Another obituary was for someone who was related by marriage, and the note read, “Robert – Married to cousin of Grandpa – Jake & Clara daughter.” Another was for the wife of a cousin to my great-grandmother. The one I like the best, though, is for a woman whose married name appears heavily in our ancestry. The note reads “Don’t know if Walter is family.”
Oh, I almost forgot – she also slipped in a recipe for crab-stuffed portobello mushrooms.