One of my earliest and fondest memories of Grandma was the time I convinced my parents to allow me to spend the night at her house. I would have been 7 or 8 years old. This was at a time when Grandma taught 2nd grade at Centerville Elementary and she brought me along to her classroom the next morning. I assumed I’d just sit at her desk and doodle away until recess. But I knew the day wasn’t going to be only fun and games when she assigned me a desk, gave me a pencil and expected me to follow along with her class.
For as long as I remember, Grandma shared stories with me about how my grandfather, my uncle John and my own father had all earned degrees from the University of Utah. Even at this early age she made sure I understood the importance of a good education. This left such a strong impression with me that I knew early on that I would graduate from the U. I had no choice but to keep the family tradition alive.
Grandma worried about every possible detail while taking care of others before herself. I can picture my Grandpa sitting in his big Lay-Z-Boy chair in the basement watching All in the Family while Grandma, perched atop the stairs, would call for him to come upstairs for dinner. When Grandpa finally made it to the table grandma would say, “Hey Nordy what took you so long?” To this day, I think of Grandma each time I hear that show’s theme song. Like Edith Bunker, she appeared a bit frazzled, occasionally at a loss for words, yet she always pulled off a successful family gathering in the face of long odds.
During the warm Utah summers before I had my driver’s license, my father would drive me to the Ogden bus depot where I’d catch a bus to Bountiful. The bus would drop me off a mile or so from Grandma’s house from which I’d sprint the entire stretch so I could quickly get started mowing the lawn. One afternoon as I was finishing up, a neighbor approached grandpa and gave him the name of a young neighbor boy who cut lawns. Before grandpa could reply, grandma chimed in with, “Our grass just looks better when it’s been cut by our grandson”. That put an end to the discussion. Once the grass was clipped and bagged, I’d kick back in the shade off her back porch where I could shoot the breeze with my grandparents. These were some of the best times because I didn’t have to share the stage with anyone else. The occasion was made even more special when Grandma would retreat to her basement and bring back a bottle of Coca Cola for me to sip on, something that wasn’t allowed at home. I felt like a little rebel. My grandparents would take turns peppering me with questions: Grandpa wanted to talk sports while Grandma would interject questions about how my studies were coming along. She never missed an opportunity to talk about education.
Visiting grandma’s house was exciting primarily because it provided curious if sometimes questionable activities I wasn’t allowed to take part in at home. A few of these activities include using the outside clothes line as a fire pole, attempting to clear the prickly shrubs by jumping off the front porch, and double-daring my sisters to go into the downstairs laundry room without adult supervision. The test was to see if one of us could make it far enough into the laundry room to spot the wooden washboard that looked like something seen from Little House on the Prairie. But most of the time we’d chicken out and only make it as far as the snow blower before retreating to safer ground.
Grandma also had a way of warning us kids about the big green exercise machine that crouched downstairs. It was more electronic bull than exercise device and we couldn’t wait to see who could stay on it for the longest amount of time. The way in which Grandma warned us about it, made it that much more mysterious if also a bit dangerous. It was just too tempting to pass up. My sister Jana would volunteer to ride it first but only if I promised to keep it on the slowest setting. Once she was on, I’d crank the dial up as high as it would go and Jana would scream as she tried to keep from falling off. The fun would end when one of two things would happen: Grandma would hear the screams from upstairs and come running to unplug the thing or Jana would get tossed off the green bull and onto the little space heater that glowed bright orange.
As I moved into high school and became more involved in athletics, I could count on Grandma and Grandpa attending most games. I recall several games where just looking into the stands and seeing my grandma smile back at me would calm my nerves. Yet even when I didn’t perform well, she’d tell me how much she enjoyed the game and how well I played. The ability to see the good in any situation must be a requirement to becoming a Grandma.
Grandma was a very frugal person. I recall going to four different grocery stores with her one Saturday morning because each store had a type of fruit or vegetable on sale. It didn’t seem economical to travel across town to save 8 cents on a pound of seedless grapes but, to Grandma; it wasn’t just about the savings: it was a matter of principle.
Another time I arrived at grandma’s house and noticed a stack of postage stamps on her kitchen table. Each stamp had a small white backdrop and I asked grandma about this. She explained that occasionally the post office wouldn’t cancel the stamp and she was merely rescuing a number of perfectly good stamps by cutting them off the envelopes and then gluing them on to outbound letters.
And the family is still amazed that one year, Grandma was able to purchase her Thanksgiving dinner with the all the trimming at the same store she purchased her Thanksgiving outfit, a feat nobody thought possible until Grandma pulled it off.
Because I’ve lived outside of Utah for the better part of 13 years now, I’ve not has as many opportunities to visit with her. But last week after hearing of her deteriorating condition, I decided to drive my family down from Seattle to visit. She was able to speak and hold the hand of our three oldest children and lay next to Kai, our 2 month old baby boy. I consider it a mini-miracle that she had the strength and state of mind to do this the night before she passed away. I’m glad my family was able to share that time with her and I know she’s in a place where she’s no longer in pain.
When I think of Grandma Nordquist, I’ll remember our chats on the back porch, the Life Saver Candy books she gave me each Christmas and the warm smiles she gave me during all those games. But I know she’s in a better place now. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the tables were now turned when she was reunited her companion and it’s now Grandpa who says, “Hey Edith, what took you so long?”