Monday, February 29, 2016

I saw my dad’s aunt June, the youngest of 7 sisters, for the last time at a lakeside picnic after the Exira 4th of July parade out in Iowa, getting to be more than a few years ago now.  She was still pretty in her late 70s and (I suppose for the usual combination of right & wrong reasons) radiantly happy to see me (go figure).

Which was reminiscent of the last time I saw her mom, my dad’s maternal grandmother, in her room at the Baptist Home in Harlan, which is the Shelby County seat, back in ’75.  She was in her 90s by then, and it was Sunday after church, and I wasn’t the first to arrive, so I took the chair nearest the door, which was the only one available.  It took her a few minutes to notice me and figure out who I was, but then she lit up like a Christmas tree from clear across a densely populated room.

My dad’s paternal grandmother lived by herself in a little house in Elkhorn—nice but plain, plain but nice—with wide floorboards polished like the deck of a clipper ship.  We never stayed long, I think primarily because my younger brother and I must’ve seemed frightfully suburban to her back in the late 1950s, her having had a Mennonite childhood in Pennsylvania and then been brought out to the Danish Baptist community in southwest Iowa by an uncle at age 11 before World War I.  My paternal grandfather, her son, was the one who understood after the Tet offensive.

— Kent Wittrup, written 2/19/16