Grandma Billie Stories

Every year since Grandma Billie died, I’ve tried to include a story about her in one of my blog posts, ideally around the anniversary of her death. She’s been gone for three years as of last July, and it’s now nearly October, but I guess it’s better late than never to post a couple of stories. Unfortunately, I apparently don’t really possess the same narrative skill that my great-grandmother had; whenever I tell a story that she’s told me, mine always end much more quickly (and I’m pretty sure that it’s not just because I talk faster, haha). Be that as it may, here are a couple of Grandma Billie stories; the first one is sad, and the second is more heartwarming, so I figure that they’ll sort of balance each other out.
.
.
I’m given to understand that this first story takes place in 1948, around the time after the infamous flooding of the city of Vanport (fifty years ago, as of last May). For some context, Vanport (a portmanteau of “Vancouver” and “Portland”)—also known as Kaiserville, after the Kaiser Shipyards—was built north of Portland in the early 1940s for wartime housing, and was the largest public housing project in the country at the time. It was home to a substantial Black population (who represented about forty percent of all its inhabitants, around the city’s peak), and was known for housing WWII veterans and transient labourers. At the time the Columbia River broke through a section of the dikes holding it back from the city, Vanport was home to over eighteen thousand residents (two of whom later moved to our street and became my Grandma’s neighbours, but that’s another story), who only had about half an hour to escape the incoming water. Fifteen people died, and the survivors were left homeless. Among the people who escaped Vanport, over a thousand Black families were only able to obtain housing in North Portland, where Grandma Billie grew up.
Grandma Billie was around thirteen at the time, and one day she walked home with a group of Black children; they were apparently nice kids, but unfortunately she got in trouble with her mom afterwards. From the way the story was told to me, it was clear that this wasn’t because the kids were strangers or known troublemakers or anything, it was purely a “Black and White people don’t hang out” segregationist thing.

.

Slight tangent that’s unrelated to racism: Grandma Billie’s mother, Madge Agnes, used to call her children when they were playing outside by trilling; this was way before cell phones of any kind, obviously, and Portland was apparently a much quieter place then, because she could still be heard from blocks away. I mention this, because I don’t really know whether or not she started doing it herself, or if she learned it from her mother—I haven’t met another family that does it—and Grandma Billie also trilled to call her children, a practice that Grandma continued, and even Mommy trilled for Levi and I when we she wanted us to come in from playing outside (or just get our attention, or even find someone in a crowded place). It’s one of those things that you grow up without really thinking is that remarkable, and then realize how weird it actually kind of is when you realize that no one else does it. It’s sort of a loud, “Braaaah!” trilling sound; it’s become almost a minor rite of passage when a girl in the family learns how to trill. I haven’t tried in a while, but the last time I did I think I still hadn’t quite figured out to do it.
.
.
The second story takes place earlier than the first one, during World War II. Again, just for some historical context: During our involvement in the war, every American received a series of ration books from the government; the books would have stamps in them for certain items—particularly food, such as canned goods, coffee, and butter—as well as (perhaps less famously) other commodities, such as gasoline, nylon, and even bicycles. Grandma Billie once showed me the ration book she had as a kid, and I think we still have it around somewhere, although I unfortunately haven’t seen it in some time.
Anyways, back to the story. The house Grandma Billie and her sisters grew up in (the same one that she later lived in by herself for many years) was across the street from a childless couple that became like family to her, whose names were Harry Richard Miessenger—who she called “Uncle Harry”—and Rose Miessenger—who she called “Aunt Rose” (later, after Harry died, she became “Grandma Rose” to Grandma Billie’s children). As a side note, I recently looked them up, and was able to find Mr. Miessenger’s registration information with the Selective Service—he was in the Fourth Registration, the “Old Man’s Draft” for World War II, which was meant to collect information regarding the country’s manpower and skills for military support.
During the war, Grandma Billie really wanted a pair of clogs, but sadly she had to get school shoes with her stamps. However, Mr. Miessenger didn’t need a new pair of shoes, and surprised her with a new pair of clogs that he had bought using his own stamps. The gesture must have made a big impression on her, and she remembered it throughout her life.
.
.
.
.
Well, those are all of the stories for now; I have others, but I want to try to save them for other blog posts. I hope that everyone reading this had an enjoyable weekend, and that they have a good October.
Growing up, I was actually never a fan of October; I didn’t like going into public places, because they often had Halloween decorations up, and I always found them creepy. Did I mention that I still don’t like Halloween? I still don’t like Halloween. Anyways, I guess to put an encouraging spin on the month, Mommy came up with the idea of putting an emphasis on celebrating saints’ feast days that fell in October. Probably as a result of this, I know a lot more of October saints than other months; St. Thérèse (who’s one of my favourites) is tomorrow, St. Francis of Assisi (another one of my favourites) is on this coming Thursday, followed by St. Faustina Kowalska on Friday, Our Lady of the Rosary on the 7th, St. Teresa of Ávila on the 15th (Dr. Kibert’s birthday), St. Luke on the 18th, St. Isaac Jogues on the 19th, and St. John Paul the Great on the 22nd. Quite a month for saints!
.
.
.
.
Today’s Question: What are some interesting stories that your grandparents (or other older relatives or friends) have told you?
.
.
.
.
Today’s Joke: My friend’s bakery burned down last night. Now his business is toast.
.
.
.
.
-Isaac““
.
.
.
.
.

Advertisements

There are no comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: