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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Five storytellers shared their experiences during the “Travel Edition of Truth Be Told” at the Colfax Municipal Building Auditorium December 30.
The storytellers — “real stories told by real people” — included Gary Stene, longtime Colfax resident and currently serving as village president; Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt, director of the Colfax Public Library; Tate Russell, Colfax High School senior; Steve Olson, lifelong Colfax resident and adult choral director at Colfax Lutheran; and Krista Ottinger, president of the Colfax Public Library Board.
The event was hosted by Kobi Shaw and Steve Russell and was sponsored by the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group.
Krista Ottinger’s story was published in the January 9 issue of the Colfax Messenger.
Look for other “Truth Be Told” stories to be published in subsequent issues of the Messenger.
Here is Lisa’s Bragg-Hurlburt’s story:
When I heard about tonight’s theme, travel, I immediately thought of something very ordinary, going to Grandma’s house when I was a little kid.
I had just made a trip to New York City with my teenaged daughter, Emma, and that was a fabulous trip. The trip of a lifetime. We rode in an airplane. It was Emma’s first time in a plane. It was just the two of us, and we had lots of adventures. But that is not the story I thought of when I was thinking about what to say tonight.
Instead, I thought about Grandma’s house. I’m going to try to explain why that simple experience was so meaningful to me and to give you a sense of what kind of a person Grandma was — because the center of Grandma’s house was Grandma.
This would be in the 1970s and early ‘80s when my grandparents were alive. And just about every weekend we would drive from my home in Rhinelander, which is about two and a half hours north of here, to Woodruff where my grandparents lived.
We would make the trip in our red family station wagon. It had a tan interior. Three sections. My parents always sat in the front. I was the oldest of the five kids, so me and the two oldest brothers would sit in the middle section, and little kids in the back.
I had a window. I would spend a lot of time looking at all of the landmarks we would pass. The familiar buildings. And I would sing in the car. Dad didn’t like to listen to the radio. So I would sing, “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.” My daughter is cringing over there. It was something for everybody to listen to in the car.
Bump in the road
Being young, that forty-five minute ride seemed like a long time. Seemed like it went on forever. We would make our way. Finally we’d get to … the road where my grandparents’ house was. It was very windy, curvy, lots of hills on the road.
And if my dad would get the station wagon going fast enough, we would get to a particular bump in the road, and it would feel like we were airborne for a moment. It was very exciting. He would make a point of going that fast.
Then we’d get to their gravel driveway, pull in and park in front of the garage. I remember it had deer antlers above the door.
At the back of the house, it was like a portal. We walked through one door, and then a stairway going up and through a second door, and that led into their kitchen.
The kitchen smelled so good. We would usually be coming for lunch.
Every weekend, my grandma, who was Italian, made spaghetti and meatballs. So the sauce would be cooking, and the house would smell heavenly.
I remember everything about that little room. There was a little formica table. There was always stuff in the middle of it. They would keep all the condiments in the middle. Nothing was refrigerated. Ketchup. Oleo. Jelly. It was something you all worked around.
I remember the wallpaper was tacky. I don’t mean tasteless. I mean, if you touched it, it was kind of sticky. I suppose it was from all of the bacon grease. Grandma was one of those who saved all the grease from the cooking, and then you’d use that in the skillet.
Then there was Grandma herself. She wasn’t a very tall person. Less than five feet tall. But she was big. She was solid. Round. My Italian grandmother.
I remember she had wavy, silvery hair. Very pretty, I thought. And horn-rimmed glasses. And dark expressive eyes that had a light in them.
I remember she only had four teeth on the bottom in the front, and I think she had dentures, but she did not like to wear them. So I thought that made her face look kind of cute. I liked her face.
She had big rounded arms that I would like to lean my head on. If there ever comes a time in my life where I feel a little self-conscious, where I wish I was thinner and I wish I could trim up a little bit, I always think how I loved Grandma with her solid body. You knew she was there. She was taking up space.
I try to be kind to myself that way. I’m going to be that solid person for someone else if they want to — well, that’s another story.
She wore house dresses and aprons. Every day. That’s what she wore.
Grandpa, in contrast, was tall and thin. He was German and quiet and a reserved guy.
In comparison, she was so much more lively. She had a deep voice, a warm voice, that filled the room. She was the heart of every room she was in. Her relationship with me gave me my first feeling of unconditional love I ever had. Because even though my parents loved me, they had expectations for me and were more concerned with my behavior. Whereas Grandma, that did not matter to her.
So Grandma’s house was a place to come and feel completely accepted. It was also a neat thing to see my parents in a different culture, so to speak.
At home in Rhinelander, my dad was very dominant. He definitely controlled the atmosphere of the home. But at Grandma’s house, my mother was more confident.
I got to see her not just as a mother but as a sister and a daughter. I got to see her be playful and laugh. And Dad kind of faded into the background, in deference to his in-laws. That was good for me to see. I enjoyed that.
Every weekend, we had that experience. I remember there was a little black and white TV in their living room. And sometimes we would watch Lawrence Welk. I actually enjoyed it.
If a polka came on, Grandma and Grandpa would dance. I loved to see that. I always knew they loved each other. That was another thing that was important for me to see.
I remember, too, my grandma would let me look through her purse. Something my mother would never let me do.
One of things she had in her purse I brought with me tonight. It’s this strange, red, fishbone comb. This is something like a forever keepsake. I used to comb her hair with it. And I loved doing that because she had such pretty, silvery hair. It was just something nice to do for her.
In the end
Of course, when you’re young, and your life is short, you have this feeling that these things you do on a regular basis are going to last forever. You have no sense of how brief it all is.
My grandmother died in 1982, and Grandpa, a year later.
So that was the end of going to Grandma’s house. I found myself missing it.
I still have all of these great memories of the experience. And the thing I learned from it, how one person’s warmth and life and vitality can energize a whole room, a whole space.
My grandma gave me that spark somehow. It transferred to me.
If I pay attention, and I’m a lively person who notices the people who come through the door, that maybe a few of them will have the feeling of specialness I had when I was little.
In some small way, I can do that for a few people — make them feel like, hey, I’m home — when they come to the library.