Tonight I sat down with the three older kids and read through 15 days worth of my grandfather’s journals from 1936 when he was 15 years old. Several things stuck out to the kids:
Their great-grandfather (my grandfather) drove his dad to his job as a janitor every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. They noted that Gramps often helped his Dad mop floors and empty trash during his Dad’s night shift, and then would go to school.
We also noticed that Gramps was only 15 when he was driving the family car. (Gramps would tell us that in fact he started driving a delivery truck in Iowa at about age 13.)
Gramps and his brother and sisters went to the movies 3-4 times a week. When I asked the kids to speculate why so often, Kien-Tam gave the right answer: “There was nothing else to do.”
The kids noted that Gramps often showered at the bank where his dad worked as a janitor. They speculated correctly that Gramps didn’t have a shower at home. They only had a wash basin and an outside toilet.
We compiled a list of six questions to ask Gramps and decided to give him a call in Denver. The kids did much of the talking, and Gramps gave his trademark detailed and funny answers. I tape recorded the conversation, which includes interesting stories about the time his mother found a turd in the wash basin and forced Gramps to bath in the dirty water, how he used to sneak into movie theaters, and what happened when Gramps’ father asked for a day off.
Here’s the taped phone conversation, just press the gray triangle on the button below:
One of my most-read posts at Rain Racer deals with the time I had my children talk on the telephone to their 89-year-old great-grandfather about what Christmas was like for him when he was 11-years old in 1931. His stories about growing up dirt poor in Davenport, Iowa during the Great Depression made an impression on them. He told them about how his father worked as a janitor and got only one day off of work per month. The family couldn’t afford to buy a Christmas tree and one Christmas when he was my kids’ age, he got from his parents a single orange.
With that in mind, I want to try out a new, regular feature at the Rain Racer in which my 2009 kids read through dusty old journals about life in the 1930s.
I first came up with this idea about two years ago. At that time, I pulled out their great-grandfather’s childhood journals from the 1930s which we have on the bookshelf. The journals are 183 pages long and cover exactly one year in my grandfather’s life. Each page covers two days and each daily entry has room for only a single paragraph. Every entry is, of course, handwritten. The binding is taped together and some of the pages fell out and have been stuffed back in. There are stories about the time my grandfather lost his ice skate in the river. Another time, he wrote about how his mother yelled at him to stop playing with the colored kids.
Here’s a sample entry I pulled at random:
June 3, 1936 — This eve I rode out to Bettendorf on my bike to see Carl. My poster I made for Centennial Contest won first prize over all the high school. It will be enlarged and put on a billboard.
I am going to start again reading a few entries a day to my kids before bed time and recording their reactions. It might be boring and elicit no real insightful reaction. Then again, sometimes the days when little or nothing happens might spark an interesting discussion. In any case, I am going to record the reactions of my three older children age 11, 10, and 8 at this blog and see what comes of it all. I will update the blog when something of note happens. And hopefully we will persist and finish the journal from 1936 and my kids will learn something about how one of their relatives lived more than seven decades ago, and we blog readers might find something of interest, humor, or nostalgia to brighten our day.