Vivian Louise Swartz

My grandmother on my paternal side, wife of Darrel. She was smart, organized and more than a bit sassy. Once she told me that when she turned 80, she was going to stop holding back and she would let everyone know what she thought. I asked, you have been holding back? But again, I get ahead of myself.

Vivian was the only child of Donald and Ethel (Snell) Swartz. She was very matter of fact about the situation “my parents had to get married because I was on the way”, and the math does prove her out. I don’t know about her parents (her father was Pa and her mother died when I was a bit older than two). I am curious about their union; it lasted their lifetimes. Makes me wonder if my grandmother was an oops or a planned oops at times. From small snippets it seemed like her parents came from different worlds … not Hatfield/McCoy more on an education standpoint. But I speculate. I do think she struggled her whole life with if she was wanted or not. She didn’t seem to grow up around other children that I heard her speak of. They always had a dog or so it appears in pictures. Her mother went with her on the train trip to Texas to marry my grandfather. Her young life is such a mystery to me.

Darrel, Vivian and a dog (not a surprise there is a dog)

My brother and I never really went to camp growing up (ok a few girl scout camps I did suffer through), but when we got older we got to spend a week at my grandparents’ house (we each got out own week) and it was amazing. My grandmother would cook (yes brownies but also homemade pizza and fried chicken, fresh green beans cooked for a day with bacon and onion). I would help her in the garden and pick her pansies (that really didn’t need picked but she humored me). I would go with her to her weekly hair appointment for the wash, curlers and tease out (some color also). That was such a magical world. The thing is you could NEVER touch Grandma’s hair except on the night prior to the hairdresser. If I was good, they would let me take out the curlers after her trip under the dryer.

My son, the exception to the no hair touching rule. From the moment of his birth, he was allowed to touch her hair and she laughed it off. As he got older (and a beard) they made it a game of: If you touch my hair, I can touch your beard!

I learned about soap operas, Price is Right, Match Game, Concentration and Gilligan’s Island all on the small black and white TV she had on in the kitchen as she washed clothes (with a ringer washer) and ironed my grandpa’s work shirts. He worked construction every day and every day had a pressed short sleeved dress shirt. I have one I kept in my cedar chest. Weeks at their house were a whole different world and she made me a part of it by including me in their routine that was very comforting especially once my parents divorced.

I have always had horrid allergies; molds, trees, grass, warm blooded animals, pollens, feathers, etc. (thankfully, no food). Neither parent had allergies and I swear they thought I was kidding when I would get all snorky and watery eyed after feeding the chickens and thought I was trying to get out of things). My grandmother had seasonal allergies also. And I loved her for that. I felt so less alone when she and I were snorking together after the grass was mowed.

When I was in still in school, my grandparents started their lives as snow birds, each trip a tad longer until they bought a place in Panama City, FL. Retired military with a base nearby, they made trips to the commissary for groceries. As a non-military child, this place blew my mind. It was long before the days of the big box store and it had everything in it. They spent about half a year in Northern Indiana and the rest down South. After my grandpa died, my grandma did not want to return to the house they had raised a family and built a life together. I understood. That house held so many memories, it still does for me. Even today, I could mentally walk you through each and every room and even describe the furniture. I don’t blame her for not going back. Cleaning it out for sale was so very difficult.

Me with Grandma and Grandpa in front of the garage of their house they lived in for about 50 years.

She stayed in Florida until she fell and broke her hip. She did rehab but she could not live down there alone. The move made her more brittle, her speech became less guarded and she hurt many people with her comments. After my grandfather died, I began to see how much he brought her back to center with his ‘Now, Mother, I don’t think you meant that’ interjections. I think she missed him and was getting to the age where many of her friends were dying and she was getting lonely. She was losing her independence and at times she took it out on people who were just trying to help.

Her assisted living place worked with the local libraryand they dropped off books to her every few weeks. She was never not surrounded by books. Mostly history and biography, but one time I went to visit and she was reading Fifty Shades of Grey (don’t know what all the fuss is about, she said as she rolled her eyes). Like her father, she was always dressed to receive company. Pants, nice top with a broach of some sort (she had zillions of broaches), her lipstick on and of course her hair immaculate. I forgot when she stopped coloring it, but it was the most beautiful white. I do hope I have inherited her late in life hair color!

I would try to visit and even after we couldn’t really go into places as the transfer became too difficult, we would drive around the area to see what had changed. She was born in Winona Lake. Winona Lake in the 1930s was much different than it was in the 2010s. She would point out the house where she was born and other tiny childhood snippets. I should have listened and written them down. We would then take off out of town and each intersection I would have her pick right or left (spoiler, Northern Indiana is pretty grid like, the odds of getting lost are quite slim) and we would drive country roads for 30 minutes to an hour. Sometimes talking, sometimes not just being out. She died at the age of 92 at the nursing home where she was living. We had time to gather and my aunt, uncle and I were there. It was so lovely to see the people who worked there coming in to tell us how she had impacted their lives and how much they would miss her. She passed away quietly while I was holding her hand.

My hand and Grandma’s showing off the latest broach

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