13 March 2011

A Tribute to my Grandma

Hazel Christensen near the end of her life
The dedication in the new book our committee is now distributing is to our maternal grandmother, Hazel Johnson Christensen. We wrote, "To our grandmother: When she couldn't sleep, she counted family instead of sheep." This refers to Grandma's nightly habit of going over all her descendant's names and birthdays. She knew us all and our birthdays and she sent us cards with a check tucked inside when our birthday came. She continued this habit until she died at age 93. As you may expect, she was a much-loved grandma.

The book is about her ancestors. Reading their stories gives us a clue where her sterling qualities, her interest in people, her faith and her determination came from. I hope I have inherited her good qualities as well.

Hazel Johnson was born November 5, 1899 in Preston, Idaho. She was the 9th of 10 children, although two of them died as infants. She was less than two years old when her father left for Denmark, the native home of his parents, on a mission. Hazel's mother, Harriet, and her children lived on investments made by her father James Johnson, on Harriet's hard work on their farm and sawmill and frugal homemaking.

Hazel worked hard all her life, too. She raised six children to be responsible adults. She supported her husband in his political career as a Nevada legislator. (Her father had been part of the Idaho Legislature.) She worked side-by-side with her husband in their Las Vegas jewelry store. She never let go of her native frugality, but she was generous with her many descendants.

Heirloom knitted lace
Grandma loved the color purple. She had her house painted that color and favored purple in her clothing. She didn't like to cook, but she provided her own favorite "Mother's" taffy sandwich cookies in her cookie jar and we always knew we could depend on having cookies and ice cream at her house. She was a meticulous housekeeper. Her handwork was unexcelled. She knit the beautiful heirloom lace pattern she had learned from her mother. In producing our book we learned that the pattern had been created by her mother and her mother's sisters (the Lamb sisters). My own sisters were able to update the pattern and provide it in the book. Knitters, beware. It's a hard pattern. One of my sisters warned that she could not even watch TV while knitting it.

Grandma also produced afghans for all her descendants. She knit many of us stockings when we were little and she crocheted doll outfits for all her granddaughters.

Grandma was a record keeper and a saver of historical memorabilia. After she died and all the "valuables" were gone from her home, there were eight boxes of letters, clippings, photos, etc. that my sisters and I inherited. My sister Beth and I had compiled a looseleaf book of histories, genealogy, photographs and memorabilia of her family and that of my grandpa. It was the last summer of Grandma's life and she financed and encouraged and inspired us to make photocopies for all her descendants. That was our first Christensen book. We worked hard at collecting, writing and putting together this information. Grandma grew weaker and was confined to her bed by the time we brought all the pieces to her home in Las Vegas to collate. We spread it all out on her bedroom floor and bound each "book" together with plastic wrap. It was to be her Christmas present to all of us, but we distributed them from her home after she died in August, shortly after we put them together. Thus, the leftover boxes of stuff that nobody else wanted to bother with became a part of our inheritance.

The eight boxes of stuff were stored in my sister Adele's basement until one day she called us together (I have 7 sisters, though we were not all there.) and said, "Girls, we've got to go through this stuff and decide what to do about it." Adele's ping-pong table was the sorting spot for several days as we laughed, cried and sorted Grandma's treasures. And there were some treasures.

The "everything" we thought we had originally gathered was not everything by any stretch of the imagination. We knew we had some bigger, better books to publish. Grandma died in 1993 and we have just finished the third volume (600-800 pages each) of histories to update that original looseleaf book for Grandma. She was our inspiration and our guide. Her family members ordered 250 copies of just this last volume. It's been a wonderful journey of learning and working and sharing. Thanks Grandma, I love you.

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