26 December 2008


My middle name is 'Thayer,' and so is my older daughter Helen's. 'Thayer' is my mother's maiden name and her father was Joseph Thayer.

I grew up knowing about 'Grandpa Joe' but I have no memory of him. Thanks once more to the researches of "Annie from Minnesota" I now know why. Grandpa Joe was born "in Ontario," the records say, though not where in Ontario - and "in 1864," but not when in that year. But he died 25 March, 1946 - about six months before my 4th birthday. It seems unsurprising that I have no recollection of him.

There is a nice photograph - I believe my brother Peter has it at present - taken during the second world war - perhaps 1943? 1944? - that has my mother, her sister, her four brothers, and "Little Byron," the son of one of her brothers, dressed in his uniform. And in the picture are my grandfather and grandmother. Grandpa Joe looks very old in the photo. If it was taken in 1944 he would have been 79 or 80.

I think I recall my mother saying that her father had worked as a locomotive mechanic for the Southern Pacific - the same company that Porter had been a despatcher for. Judging from my mother's quotations of sayings from him, Grandpa Joe appears to have been rather a salty character. The only one I can remember which is suitable for appearance in a family magazine was "One more clean shirt and we're all in the poorhouse!" - though precisely what this was meant to convey is not crystal clear.

There is a lot more in the material that Annie has sent me and if any of you is sufficiently interested, you may e-mail me privately and I will send you sufficient genealogical information to keep you busy for quite a while.

"Grandma Dell" - of course her name 'Adele' was my mother's and is my younger daughter's - I remember very well - and blush as I do so.

I had imagined, somehow, that she was of French Canadian descent. She may have been, but the records show her as born in Illinois on the 11th of July, 1874. Well, Grandpa Joe was born in Canada but ended up in the United States. Perhaps Grandma Dell's parents had done something similar. Her birth name is listed as Adele M. LaBerge. My mother's middle name is 'Mildred' so perhaps that was Grandma's middle name as well. Her first child, my Uncle Bob Thayer, was born 15 September, 1896, and her last, my mother, on 5 January 1915 (my mother will be 94 years old 10 days from the time I am writing this!).

We left Bakersfield in 1954. I was born in 1942 and can scarcely have much conscious memory from earlier than about four years of age - September, 1946. Sometime between 1946, then, and 1954 my mother's mother came to live with us for a while. And sometime during those years my mother's mother had a stroke. What I do not know is whether the stroke is the reason she came to live with us, nor whether she lived with us after the stroke.

I believe she lived with us before she had the stroke because I have vague memories of an ambulance coming for her; and I have much less vague memories of her begging me, and perhaps Peter, to do little things for her: tie her shoes, go to the store, etc. If I was to go to the store, I think it must have been when I was at least 8, so perhaps 1950 0r '51.

She asked these things - in fact she begged. She offered to pay us small amounts to do them. I did do them - but I resented it and complained about it. May God forgive me for my coldness and selfishness.

It may be said that, after all, a young boy has little interest in the cares of the old. She would have been in her late 70's by then. Certainly there was a great gap between us. And I do remember Porter's mother - "Grandma Turner." She was born in 1863, and would have been in her late 80's when I knew her. To be sure, she did not ask for favours. She had not had a stroke and perhaps did not need them. I did not so much resent spending time with her as I found it boring. But I resented Grandma Dell. I do not think this inevitable. I think it possible, through grace, for a young child to have at least some inkling of the needs of the old, and to have something to put against his natural selfishness.

I think it possible, but I detect nothing in my own past to match it.

Grandma Dell did one other thing for me. She was the first person to try to talk to me about God. She gave me a Bible, too, and told me to read it. She marked - in blue chalk, the 1950's version of highlighter! - the Lord's prayer and the 23rd Psalm, and told me I should memorise them, which I did. I recall deciding to read that Bible. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that I began with Genesis. I remember asking my mother if people really lived for seven or eight hundred years long ago. My poor mother! Instead of telling me - what? - that she didn't think so? that I would have to ask someone who knew better? - I don't know. But what she said was that in the translation of the Bible perhaps there was some confusion between months and years, and that those ages were really months.

It's a pity people don't realise the child's ability to reason. One of the patriarchs - I don't know which one and can't be bothered to look it up - but one of them quite reasonably is said to have fathered a child at the age of thirty-something.

Even I saw that it was as remarkable a thing to say that a man fathered a child at the age of about three years as to say that he lived for seven hundred. I lost interest in the Bible and never read any more.

I still have that Bible somewhere, I think, over fifty years later. I don't know. Perhaps Grandma Dell prayed for me.

She died in 1957, just two days past her 83rd birthday. But there is another thing that I must say about Grandma Dell and I have gone away past any reasonable length in this post. In another post I have to talk a little about religion. Grandma Dell clearly had religious beliefs - hence that Bible. In addition, there was some connexion with the Catholic Church.


John from Canada said...

Ah, a Canadian connection, and to my home province, Ontario! John, you may still have relatives of sorts in Ontario: there certainly seem to be plenty of Thayers here (87 in Ontario according to canada411.ca). Pity you don't have more information than "Ontario": it's a big province.

As for your Grandma Dell's explanations of the bible, unfortunately not every grownup who tries to answer questions from children actually knows how to give a good answer. I try to admit to my children when I don't know the answer to one of their questions, but it is tempting sometimes to speculate on the spot. And your Grandma Dell is hardly unique in making up (or, I suppose, repeating, unquestioned) an odd explanation for the great age of the patriarchs: here's one that I think is much more, well, original and creative than your Grandma Dell's.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Hi, John! Yes, probably I have heaps of relations up there - and Susan as well, since her mother's family are from Canada and she still has some known relations there.

It was my mother who attempted to explain away the patriarchal ages. My grandmother might well have had clearer ideas.

Regarding the degeneration of mankind referred to in your link - well, I have read it before and if you accept the Genesis Flood idea as some do, it doesn't seem unreasonable.

Me, I don't know, but I just told the story of my mother's explanation because I remember it - and it pretty much put paid to taking the Bible seriously for me. My mother herself had no religion whatever and nor did my father.