Monday, May 30, 2011


I can't think of anyone more important to a family's genealogy than grandparents. 
When I was a child I thought I had three grandmothers and two grandfathers. That was because my father's parents had divorced when he was very young – and when he was a teenager his father remarried. 
The thing was, my dad's father and his step-mother, and my mother's people, all lived in north central Minnesota, and my father's mother, lived in Minneapolis – a long way from our home in Racine, in south eastern Wisconsin, As a result I only saw my paternal grandparents once or twice a year. My mother's parents rarely traveled, so we would see them when we made our annual summer trip “back home”, as my dad would say. 
It was a long, hot drive from Racine to Minneapolis before there were interstate highways and air conditioned cars. Minneapolis was always the first stop “up” to the Cuyuna Range, and the last stop “back.” My dad's mother, Grandma Lutie, ran a private nursing home and owned what (viewed from the perspective of a child) I thought was an enormous house. All those rooms! And the oh, so neat, “back stairway”, which ran from the first floor kitchen to the rear of the second floor! To me, that “back stairway” was remarkable, and was called the “servants” stairs (Grandma didn't actually have “servants” – though sometimes she did have another nurse and day help.) We entered her house through an enclosed porch and then the front door. Once inside was when I felt the “Wow!” The vestibule at the foot of the stairs, had magnificent oak paneling and a built-in seat. But it was the “front stairway” that was truly grand! It had huge, carved oak posts, gleaming balustrades hand polished with paste wax, and a stained glass window on the landing! There were two rooms off the vestibule – a parlor to the right, and a very large dining room straight ahead. The kitchen, to the rear of the dining room, was also large. “Counters” were not especially common in houses built around the turn of the twentieth century so Grandma compensated with work tables, because regardless, of the number of patients “in residence” at any give time – there was always cooking taking place! 
From the kitchen you could exit to an enclosed back porch, and then out into the yard. Or, you could go into the “morning room”, which was less formal than the dining room. This was where we would eat breakfast, and occasionally lunch. I say occasionally because eating was the constant activity at Grandma Luties. If (as was the normal routine) a large, several course lunch was being prepared for the patients, then we would be served the same menu in the dining room. And, of course, it goes without saying (why do we use that phrase – and then always say it anyway?) that supper, which was always a large, heavy meal, was served in the dining room. Between the morning room and the parlor there was another room, not too large or too small, and I remember it as always being sunny and decorated with flowered wallpaper and chintz curtains, but I really have no idea what that room was called. 
Upstairs, just off the top landing, there was a glassed in “sun-room” that sat atop the front porch. There was nothing 'formal' about the sun-room. In fact, I seem to recall that it's décor was a bit on the Bohemian side. Grandma Lutie was very well mannered and 'proper' as a business woman who had supported herself from about the age of twenty. But she had another side, I could sense it! And I saw hints among the fringed shawls draped over the daybed, and the many unique items on tables and shelves... A large abalone shell (I loved the beauty of the rainbow colors) which I suspected led a double life as an ashtray, a small, oriental, cloisonne incense burner, and a rainbow of silk pillows on the wicker chairs and lounge. Close off the sun-room was the upstairs bath, which I seem to recall was for the use of adults, while I and my sister used the tiny “water closet” just off the kitchen, on the first floor.

Also, near to the sun-room, and the first of many doors along the dark hallway, was Grandma Lutie's bedroom. I had briefly glimpsed the interior a few times when the door was partially open, but the room itself was off limits to me. It was her private room, and I was expected to (and did) respect her privacy. The rest of the rooms along the hallway were, I suppose, patient's rooms, and probably one or two for employees. I think my parents slept in one of those rooms, but Mary and I always slept in the sun-room – which probably was the most comfortable since windows could be opened on two sides, and with the help of an old electric fan we enjoyed cool, and mostly humid free, nights. I somehow knew that there was an invisible line in the carpet outside of Grandma's bedroom door. I was not allowed to cross that line. And I never did.

Grandma Lutie had only the one child, my father. He had four daughters, and I was the youngest. The other three had spent their childhoods living in Minnesota – they saw her more frequently, and often away from her home and business. I saw her only once a year, on vacations. At those times she had two things on her mind: my father (whom she adored) and cooking for my father, which meant cooking each and every conceivable meal (meat, vegetables, dumplings, breads, fruits, and deserts) in her repertoire, which was extensive! 

In my mind I picture Grandma Lutie in one of the plain, long, white bib-aprons that she always, but, always, wore (sometimes with ties long enough to allow them to go once around the back and then be knotted and bowed in the front.) That was because, even more (I think) than attending to her patients, Grandma Lutie was always cooking!! 

She had a large, leather-like, ottoman in the parlor which opened up and was full of photographs. Oh, the hours that I used to sit on the floor and dig through those pictures! Once in a while I would catch her 'on the fly' passing through the room, and I'd hold up a photo and ask her about it. She would give me a quick name and possibly a date – or just a time and no name. “Oh, that was when we...” And there was a stereoscope, too! That was really a kick! I loved pulling the pictures and albums from that ottoman (stirrings of the future genealogist), but being a child, sadly, I was too young to think about writing anything down. And grandma Lutie? If she stopped long enough for even a brief explanation I was usually satiated... Additionally, I had a wonderfully vivid imagination!! 

I'm sure you see the problem here? Count on Grandma Lutie to have something special cooking for my sister and me: a big baked ham for Mary, chicken and dumplings for me, and our favorite cookies and pies. But what I wanted, and never got was her! She was always busy, always smiling. I knew she loved me, but she never really had timetime just for me. So, there were no stories, no pointing out her favorite things – no history! There were too many lines not to cross and doors not to open. I never once heard her speak of her parents, yet I'm certain that some of those old photographs were of them. Years after her death I would come to see that she deeply loved her mother and father. She was an only child, but what little information I did have about her came from my mother and my sisters (my father having died when I was a teenager.) Later I turned to census and other records. I did not hear from her that she was adopted (well, that was not unusual, one did not talk at all about being adopted – which automatically implied the detestable “illegitimate”). She did not tell me that her dear mother had seen four previous children die! She did not tell me, if she knew, that her father had been married twice before he married her mother. I had thought only Minnesota was “back home”, but as an adult I would find most of my information about Grandma Lutie's father right in Iowa (which she did know), only forty miles from where I live, where his whole family finally settled, where his parents are buried – AND – only seven miles from where my maternal great-grandmother grew up, and her parents are buried! No, not in Minnesota, not in Wisconsin – but at the place where, for reasons I can't say and really don't know – the place where my heart always said I must go...

Though I didn't know it when I was a child, I could have truly benefited from less food and more conversation. 
In her later years, when she could no longer work, my mother (by then a widow) tried for a brief period having Grandma Lutie live with her in Racine. But I really think that she couldn't handle the boredom of Racine – she wanted the movement and noise of the large city, she wanted Minneapolis. I was newly married, living in Missouri and then Iowa, and then back to Wisconsin. I was soon a young mother, always busy, and like most young couples we were financially deprived. I just didn't have time – not much of an excuse, but those are the reasons I gave myself to explain why I didn't write, didn't call, and didn't travel to visit her. 
She went back to Minneapolis. First renting an apartment, and then a single room, and eventually (severely crippled with arthritis, an suffering from mild dementia) she went into a nursing home. My mother and my sisters would sometimes speak of another nursing home that Grandma Lutie had owned in Minneapolis, called “The Rand”, one even more magnificent than the home she had when I was a child. And before that, she worked as a nurse for others, and in different homes and institutions. So, in the end, perhaps it was a nursing home that she could relate to as 'home'... 

She died in 1971, alone, at the age of 83. 
She had a 'favorite' among my sisters and I: Nancy (the one who did visit her, and did write to her, and did pay her attention), and she left Nancy everything. But after all that downsizing, the things that Nancy brought back from Minneapolis were meager. The ottoman and all of the photographs were never seen again. To my knowledge there are no photos left of her mother and father (to me a monumental loss.) I'm sure there were very few papers, or writings. I did ask for one of her bib-aprons if there were any, and I was given one – a good inheritance, something that truly said Lutie
If you are fortunate enough to still have grandparents (yours or your children's) please don't get lost in your “life”. Ask those questions, seek out the stories, look for the photographs, urge your children and grandchildren to do the same – and record EVERYTHING!!

In part 2 of “Grandparents...” I will tell about my north central Minnesota grandparents, and in part 3 I will talk about “being” a grandparent!


Minneapolis, Minnesota

 Lutie (Lutheria) Ann (Bickford) Foote
Photo ca. 1945 - 1949

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