Long Beach, Calif.
February 23, 2001
My grandma and grandpa came to Long Beach in the mid 1930s, when it was a new surfside development, full of people like them: Midwestern newlyweds trying to escape harsh winters and Victorian parents. They had met in Globe, Arizona
a few years before.
She was a kindergarten teacher with a two-year degree from Mankato Teachers College, which she parlayed into a job 1,500 miles from the icy winters of Northern Minnesota's Iron Range. He was an Oklahoma farm boy who had grown up in the panhandle. Once, after closing up the barber shop where he worked, he went across the street to crank up his car. He had left it in Drive, so when the car cranked alive, it chugged across the street and through the plate glass window of the barber shop.
A few years into the Great Depression, they set out from Arizona to Bakersfield, where my grandpa apprenticed as an undertaker -- a profession that seemed (and proved to be) recession-proof. After his apprenticeship, they moved down to Long Beach, where they lived together and with their only child, my dad, through the 40s, 50s, and 60s. In 1971, my grandpa died of throat cancer, a cruel fate for someone who never used tobacco. In the 30 years since, my grandma has lived and worked here in Long Beach, living in her 5th floor condo overlooking Alamitos Bay.
Now, in a few days, nearly 70 years of living in Long Beach will come to an end for her when we bring her up to Santa Rosa. This week she's in a convalescent hospital. Visiting there makes me pray that I go in my sleep before I need to go into one. The noise, the screams, ("Help! Get me a pillow!") the smells are frightening. Walking down the hall, "Jeopardy" plays from every room.