Both of my parents came from families of 6 kids each. So that right there says quite a bit about my grandparents. Corralling 6 kids is a challenge in any era ever. The fact that they were able to raise such large families devoid of instances of drugs, crime, or trauma is a credit to them and a blessing for me and all of my fellow grandchildren.
Eunice (Wilson) Kowalkowski
My mom's mother, Grandma Kowalkowski, or just Grandma K as we will always call her, is probably the grandparent I spent the most time with. And that is saying something, given that we all lived in the same town and I got see all of my grandparents weekly when I was growing up.
I would often spend the night at my Grandparents just for fun and of course to get spoiled with attention.
Now grandma K was from North Carolina. She would occasionally tell us stories from her childhood. She would say how they would ride in a horse drawn cart and have to cross rivers like it was the Oregon trail or something, and she would hold on to her daddy tight so she wouldn't fall out. In a state like Washington where it is known to rain a lot, it does sometimes rain while the sun is shining, to which Grandma K would always remark "The devil is beating his wife." I had never heard anyone else ever say that until years later when my wife was going to college in Chapel Hill NC, we learned that is indeed a known expression for that particular weather phenomenon.
I can recall on many occasions (probably whenever I was complaining about school or homework) she would reference how she always liked school, but she "went to school for the social aspect, but I wasn't' much for the academics." At least that is how I remember it in my head, but I don't know that "Academics" is the word my grandma would have used. But whatever word she used, I knew what she meant. She was trying to encourage me to focus, study, and take my school work seriously to get good grades. But to be honest, whether we got A's or D's grandma didn't seem to care. She was proud of her grandchildren just for being their unique individual selves.
She was pretty sly too. She would take me to the grocery store and let me pick out any box of cereal I wanted. I naturally chose the box of Captain Crunch, not because I like to eat Captain Crunch but because it had a one in a million chance for winning a Toys R' Us Shopping Spree! Well when I inevitably did not win and began to cry, Grandma K assured me that she would "Try and win it for me." And with the task of winning the shopping spree placed firmly in grandma's capable hands, I was able to stop crying and went along with the rest of breakfast. And since grandma tended to use the Tupperware for cereal containers just like in Forgetting Sara Marshall (she also had the Tupperware "handle attached to a square ring for a half gallon of milk") so not only did she have the "Freshest cereal" but I never saw the box again and forgot all about the Shopping spree. Smooth grandma. Very Smooth.
I remember my grandmother taking me shopping at the mall for my 12th birthday. She bought me shoes at Footlocker. The sales man that day happened to be a black guy. After we walk out of the store, she says to me "I'm proud of you. You let the colored man help you." I suppose you could interpret that different ways. I always looked at that as my grandmother was aware of her own upbringing and the racist attitudes she had been exposed to and she was legitimately proud to see those attitudes not being repeated in her grandchildren. On the frequent occasions that me and my brother might be rambunctious or sassy, she would say "Hey now you little Rastus!" Well as far as I can tell as an adult that is actually a term associated with black face minstrel shows evoking racial stereotypes, and shouldn't be used as it is offensive. But we never knew any of that. Clearly grandma just meant it as a term of endearment. As grandkids we just thought it was a made-up grandma word. I vividly recall an exasperated Grandma K trying to get grandpa K to hand her something with the following exchange...
Grandma from the kitchen: "Dang Nabit Daddy I need the thingamajig!"
Grandpa putting down his newspaper while sitting in his Lay Z boy recliner: "What's the thingamajig?"
Grandma growing impatient: "It's on the doojigger!"
Grandpa incredulous: "What's a doojigger?"
Grandma exasperated:"Dagummit. I'll get it myself."
Grandpa: "As you wish then Mother." (and he goes back to reading his newspaper)to reading his newspaper)
But in spite of her semi-ambiguous folksy southern charm (or maybe because of it), Grandma K might be the most open and accepting individual I have ever met. I say might be because grandma Cookie (Maria Daltoso), who I only mention very briefly below, is the only real challenger to the title. While grandma K liked and accepted everyone, Grandma Cookie liked and accepted everyone, and would literally do the whole "pinch their cheeks" bit to prove it. Thankfully, Grandma K wasn't pinching cheeks. But she was always genuinely kind and concerned for the welfare of others. I never heard her say a mean or disparaging word about another person ever! She was accepting of me even if she didn't approve of my decisions. She never really lectured or belabored a point or held a grudge. Grandma K's superpower was forgiveness. I tend to have more of a "live and let live" mentality in my life and I attribute that directly to the influence of my Grandma K.
Grandma was open and honest but never critical. And on the flip side, if anyone ever had a bone to pick with her, remarkably she would take it on the chin with a smile on her face. Now the only people who ever really did that were of course my mom when she was concerned for my grandmothers' wellbeing, physically, financially or otherwise, and surprisingly enough, my brother Brian, who was her favorite grandchild.
I remember after high school grandma's health was beginning to decline. She developed a form of Emphysema which was startling as she never smoked a day in her life, which doubly startling when you remember she was born and raised in North Carolina, literally on Tobacco road! She often required steroids to help her breathe and of course that lead to dozens of side effects and complications. Starting in middle school I had developed the habit of visiting grandma about once a week just walking over from home or school, and that probably increased to twice a week when I got my licenses and could drive over. At first it was just to see grandma and hang out as always. She did have a cookie jar after all as most grandmothers do (I am pointing this out because my mother once explicitly accused me of only going to see grandma because I was hungry and wanted a snack). Eventually it became more of a wellness check on granny. After high school I house sat for grandma for a week while she was out of town. I can't remember for sure but I think it was to have some kind of a medical procedure. At some point soon after I had resolved that it was in her best interest for me to move in with her to be around and help out, and it also conveniently would give me a little more of a sense of independence. However, those plans were pretty much torpedoed when I met my wife, and I distinctly remember having a conversation with my brother Brian and saying he should move in with her. Well, he did just that. And he was the same irritable complaining curmudgeon that I had shared a room with for 14 years, but somehow grandma loved it. He would walk around the house complaining and calling grandma old. But he did so with a mischievous twinkle in his eye that grandma found irresistible. Grandma K loved me as her goody-two-shoes oldest grandson, but what she really liked was an ornery little bad boy. Who knew? I mean both of them really seemed to hit their stride in life while living together. It's like they could finally be themselves with another person. And it was a good thing they did too. Grandma had a lot of medical issues arise during that time period including falling and breaking her leg, and luckily Brian was there to take care for her.
Brian had moved out to go to college and my cousin Marshall was now living with grandma in a similar role. My wife and I had been living in College Place while we went to school at Walla Walla University. But I only had class one day a week so we decided to move across town to be closer to Grandma so we could walk over and visit her regularly. We were literally just across the creek from her. In the summer we could cut through the dry creek bed into her backyard. But we never got the chance. Just days after we moved in, I got a phone call from Brian telling me that grandma K had passed away the night before. I was shocked. Brian and I kind of got into it on the phone as we were both stunned and hurt. I distinctly remember calling my wife to tell her. I sort of expected she would be kind of sad for me and the family, but I was surprised at her emotional reaction. She started to cry and came home from work early. It really hit home what kind of an impact grandma K had had on her in only the few short years they had together. Ironically this was literally a week after Grandma Cookie had passed away. Much like Barry Sanders retiring in the wake of Walter Payton's passing so as not to break his rushing record, Grandma K didn't want to go full cheek pinching mode, and made her own discreet and unexpected exist.
Or maybe it was just like grandma K used to always say at the passing of any of her friends and family " You have to come, when the Good Lord calls you." Note that she always said it as "Come" not as "go." Clearly, she viewed death as "coming home" not "going away." If I were the Good Lord, " I would want Grandma K to come home too."
I kind of suspect that I may be most like my grandpa K than anyone else in my family (see the DNA chart above). I was about 14 when my grandpa died. I never really knew him as anything other than your classic grandfather. For as long as I knew him, he had always been friendly but stern, retired and bald (turns out he had been balding as far back as in his wedding photos. Male pattern baldness usually is inherited from your mother's side, but I appear to have dodged the bullet so far.). He wore the same paisley shirts from the 70's, a Bolo tie and of course, black socks with sandals. He was the wisest a man I have ever known and I told him as much the last time I saw him. He seemed to have an inexhaustible wealth of knowledge about any subject. He was a walking encyclopedia. And if he wasn't sure then he just turned to the blue bound Volumes of the 1965 World Book encyclopedia that was the center piece of my grandparents book shelf. To this day when you can just google anything, there is something much more comforting and satisfying to me flip through the pages of a book than have a million website hits pop up. Maybe it is the association of my "all knowing" grandfather certifying its veracity that makes me trust book knowledge way more than a website. Or maybe I am just Old. Like my grandpa was. I try to imagine what it would have been like to see my grandpa looking something up on the internet. I can't really do it. I think he would be repulsed and overwhelmed by modern media, which is exactly how I feel most of the time.
My grandpa was a Park Ranger. He worked for years for the National park service. We all tend to kind of think of Park Ranger as an overgrown boy-scout, and honestly that isn't a bad analogy to describe my grandpa. But if you think about it a Park Ranger is the law enforcement and administration arm of power coving millions of acres of government territory. The difference is it is managed with the intent of preserving, not of developing, which is a very Tolkien like idea to think about. So to imagine my grandpa as some kind Elvish Super Cop is kind of cool. And oddly enough, it fits.
My grandpa used to take me on walks up and down Mill Creek and point out the flora and fauna we encountered. He taught me about fox tails, and ants, and quick sand, and dogs, and erosion, and the process of pouring concrete, amongst anything else you might encounter on a trek up the crick. And if you think about it, you would normally have to wait in line with a large tour group, pay big bucks, or have the Governor owe you a favor in order to get a real Park Ranger to give you a personal field tour. To this day the Mill Creek trail is one of my favorite places spend time.
He also was the male role model in my life that first allowed me to do things like take things apart and put them back together again. Just simple things like a lamp, the lawn mower, or a toaster. Just anything that he might be fixing around the house. My parents were fairly cool with me using tools to build stuff, but taking things apart to see how they worked was not exactly something they wanted to encourage.
My grandpa and I put together a model airplane once, and for like the next 6 years, all my relatives on my mom's side always got me more model airplanes for Christmas. I was not a big fan of models at the time because I was more interested in taking things apart than putting them together. But I did like painting them. Of course, grandpa and I always argued about how to paint it because he was trying to make it authentic and accurate, and I was making a psychedelic Soul plane. Grandma always had to step in and say "Dag burn it Daddy, just let him paint it the way he wants." And grandpa always conceded. I think it was physically painful for him to let it go, but he always eventually let me paint it however I wanted. I have similar moments now with my sons drawing or building with Legos, and I and trying to teach them how things are, and they just want to make stuff willy-nilly. I feel your pain now grandpa! (God, I am so old).
As I said, he passed away when I was about 14 years old. I remember my mom bringing me over to see him and telling me she had a feeling he didn't have much time left. Sure, enough he passed away the next morning. He was the first grandparent I lost. And so, he is the grandparent I have always imagined looking down on me from heaven.
My wedding ring is actually my grandfather's. My grandmother gave it to me when I got engaged. It still has "Eunice to Stan 9/6/52" engraved on the inside. He is the one grandparent I get to carry a little piece of with me at all times.
My grandpa was an onion farmer. Walla Walla Sweet Onions are a cash crop! He got up at 4am every morning and headed out to the fields. He would work a 12–14-hour days and then came home and showered, before moving on to whatever church/school/ community activity or event his wife and family were involved with. Sometimes it was a hospital fundraiser. Sometimes it was his grandson's basketball game. Often the actions took place in his living room, and inevitably he would say "Good night everybody" and go to bed at 9pm. Then get up and do it all over again. He loved it. He had been raising crops, working the fields with his own two hands since he was a boy out alongside his mother (great grandma Cookie). He even recalled this on her 99th birthday and he sang to her in Italian the work songs they had sung as a family together in the fields. This was his passion and pleasure, and he lived it day in and day out for the majority of his life.
My dad used to say that my grandpa hated to not be working. "When it's break time, he just sits and watches the clock until it's time to go back to work." When I was a teenager, I spent my summer mornings working out in the fields with my grandpa. Now I wasn't actually having to harvest anything, but I was tasked with duties such as sacking and delivering produce to the local grocery stores. Sometimes I would help him move irrigation pipe, but he literally could move two pipes at once balanced on his shoulders, and I needed 2 hands to move one, so he was actually much more efficient doing it alone than supervising me. He always bought us breakfast every morning, whether it was doughnuts or a trip to Tommy's Dutch Lunch. And while sitting in Tommy's as I polished off my #6 pancakes breakfast and #8 French toast breakfast, I saw him, cup of coffee in one hand, his other hand turned to display his wrist watch, and he was literally just watching his watch tick, waiting to finally look up and say "OK time to get back to work." Often, I would be at my grandparents' house and when he came home for lunch. He would make himself an onion sandwich and turn on Paul Harvey on the radio. And then again sit at the table watching the digital clock radio change until the appointed time, at which point he would jump up and head back out to the fields.
The thing about my grandpa was how respected and mild-mannered he was. You have to realize that an onion field is much like a locker-room in how the men at work converse with one another. Each day brought another farmer or neighbor, or customer, or just grandpa's friends come to chat, out to the fields. These are mostly old Italian guys, acting the way old Italian guys tend to do. Spitting. Swearing. I learned more about erectile dysfunction in the onion fields than on Pizer's website. There were complaints and debates turned arguments. And grandpa did none of it. His focus on the job at hand and the overall big picture of not just the farm enterprise, but life it's self never wavered or deviated. He did not engage in any of the "boys club" conversation. He never shut it down or called anyone else out for doing it either. I'm sure he would have called me out if I had started doing it, but obviously I knew better. He just worked until his task was completed or it was time to do something more pressing.
Something about that sole ambition, central focus, and disdain for the sophomoric Lockeroom distraction had an outsized impact on me. Grandpa appeared to derive complete satisfaction from his labor itself and so to be all consumed by the job was a pleasure for him and to engage in chauvinistic revelry as entertainment and reprieve from the drudgery of work was never a temptation for him. I have always sought the all-inclusive career satisfaction and harmony with family life my grandpa had, and anything less has always made me feel as if I am living life wrong. But I think he is most likely the exception and not the rule. Still, he has been an example and a standard to which I aspire.
Today I get up at 4am every morning and go to work. And after tucking my sons in bed, I am asleep myself by 9 o'clock. I'm definitely not laboring in the fields for 12 hours, and I certainly don't love the labor I do, but I have to believe that it is my grandpa's influence that has allowed me to keep it up this long.
Marguarite (Deluca) Daltoso
The only grandparent that is still living today is my dad's mother. I have never really had a conversation with my grandmother about what she was like as a little girl. Which is kind of strange given that we grew up in the same house! Let me clarify that. The house that my grandmother's father built and that she lived in as a teenager is the same house my parents bought and moved me and my sibling into circa 1992. That means me and my grandmother both got to experience what it was like to be a teenager within the walls of the same home on a double lot on East Maple street. She has never really told us grandkids much about what it was like for her growing up. But the general vibe I get from anyone that knew her in those days was that she was the "It Girl" of SW Washington Italian society of the times. My dad would always tell us that our front porch was a historic landmark because it was likely "the only spot that Batman had ever been thrown out of." That's right, TV's Adam West was a college student at Whitman College less than a mile down the road, and he was attempting to call on my grandmother, and he got thrown out and run off by her step mom. What did Adam West do? How well did he know my grandma? How did he even know her? Did he follow her home? How did my grandpa fit into to this picture? What did he have that Batman didn't? Was he the inspiration for a batman VIllian? Was it the Riddler or the Penguin?? So many questions, but these aren't the type of things that you asked grandma, and she probably wouldn't have answered them anyway.
You see she wasn't just an "It girl" she was the "It Wife," and then the generational equivalent of "It Soccer Mom" to 6 children. She then became the "It Grandmother," and that is how I was introduced to her. She was always school board/PTA committee chair/ church lady/alter society president / hospital volunteer from as far back as I or anyone else could remember.
And this was all legitimized and officially ordained from on high when she was named Washington State Mother of the Year in 1991. I still recall the entire family going to the state capital building in Olympia to see grandma get awarded by then Gov. Booth Gardener. And that just gold-plated the whole thing and for the better part of the next decade it was Margaurite Daltoso's world. The rest of us were just living in it, mostly because she just kept feeding everyone.
Grandma and grandpa had 15 grandchildren, but me and my siblings were the only ones that lived in Walla Walla with them. So we saw them at least once a week on Sundays, and usually more often than that between holidays, basketball games, televised sporting events, or other school and church activities. Given that I was the oldest and therefore had spent the most time with them I would say I earned the distinction of "favorite grandchild" due simply to proximity and familiarity. I got to spend the most quality time with them. Now as an adult all bets are off as to who the reigning favorite grandchild is, as discussed in the cousin's post. But growing up I was extremely close to my grandparents. I have nothing but good memories of my grandma and grandpa for almost 20 years. And then my dad got sick and suddenly things got rocky for the first time. Grandma had been on top of the world and had built a huge following of family and community that she had guided and led for 40 years. I think it would be overly dramatic to say "and then It all came crashing down," but how else does any other parent ever described the loss of a child? The death of my dad exposed me to the fact that my grandparents may seem to live a charmed life, but they are as vulnerable to the unfair whims of fate as anyone else. They naturally struggled with the loss of their son as I was struggling with the loss of my father. And so, we both were hurting. Of court I got married in this time frame, and that sort of helped, and sort of made things worse. It wasn't really fair to be introducing a new family member into the most painful episode my family had ever had. It wasn't fair to my grandparents and it wasn't fair to my wife.
There has been some tension between my wife and my grandmother. Neither of them probably wants to hear this but I think I know why. This struck me like a bolt of lightning during my son's first week of kindergarten. My wife went to pick up my son from school, got invited to a PTA meeting, and came home committee chair of the Book Fair, was hosting a booth at a swap meet, and she was also volunteering at the school library 3 days a week, all with our new born son in tow the whole time. She was Super Mom. She was the "It Girl" of the Hearthwood Elementary parent teacher association. She couldn't help herself. It just happened as if by a force beyond her control. And she loved it. And all seemed right in the world for the moment, because it was my wife's world and I was just living in it, waiting to be fed.
It's an old Freudian psychoanalytic joke that inevitably you will end up marrying your mother. Well, whether consciously or subconsciously, I went the complete other direction. My wife is nothing like my mother (which means my dad did basically the same thing). But she is the strong willed, fierce, matriarchal lynchpin of our family and driver of our social circle. I didn't marry my mother but I may have married my grandmother. I mean ask anyone who knows either of them what they think of one of them and the response is likely to be "Oh I love Mrs. Daltoso. She is a lovely woman. Fantastic mother. Delicious chef. Warm and generous to a fault. But you definitely don't want to find yourself on the opposite side of an argument from her." I love them both. Obviously in different ways.
Mario and Maria (Sonnccella) Daltoso immigrated from Northern Italy to the Wall Walla Value in the 1920's to raise both children and onions. This is the famous cheek-pinching” grandma Cookie, whose breadsticks are legendary.
Eugenio and Mary (Talarico) Deluca also immigrated From Southern Italy in the early 20th century. Eugenio remarried Carolina Deluca after Mary passed away in 1941. He was a local Restaurateur and noted businessman in Walla Walla and I grew up in the house he built.e buil
Stanley and Bertha (Alexander)Kowalkowski were classic Polish immigrants turn Chicagoans. He was employed for years by the MARS Candy Bar Corporation. I met them once when I was about a year old.
John and Lillie Wilson raised 9 children in the backwoods of rural North Carolina and the family is descendant of US Founding Father James Wilson.