Book of Me, Prompt 7: My Maternal Grandparents

[Part two of prompt 7 of the Book of Me Written by You...]

Writing about my Grandparents on my Mom’s side is a little more complicated.  My Grandma was born in 1912 in Oakland, California as Anna Hazel Jackson but always went by Anna Elizabeth.  This should give you a glimpse into the strong willed and opinionated woman that she was.  She did not live near us when I was a child.  She visited at Christmas.  I can remember her laughter and the way she made toast by cutting thin lines in the top so the butter melted in.

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My Grandma in 6th grade in 1924.

She developed a brain tumor in 1974 and was hospitalized for many months.  She ended up partially paralyzed in one leg.  She tried to live at home with an aide and my Mom’s help on weekends.  She checked herself into a rest home sometime around 1975.  Though she was wheelchair bound, there was nothing wrong with her mind.  She was gifted at embroidery, read everything she could get her hands on, and was politically active (she was a member of the Grey Panther’s in the 1980’s despite living in a rest home.)
My Grandma was a single mother, having divorced my Grandfather when my Mom was 9 years old.  She left school before graduation because she was pregnant and had to get married.  But, when the marriage failed, she taught herself office skills and held different jobs working her way into the civil service where she worked for Naval Supply in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Chula Vista, CA.  My grandma was a fighter.

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My Grandma at work in the 1950s.

I will say I loved my grandmother, though she was an incredibly difficult woman to like.  She was hard headed and opinionated.  She could be incredibly difficult to get along with.  She was too quick to speak her mind.  These are traits that she held long before her brain tumor.   Getting family information from her was like pulling teeth.  She’d tell me no one cared to listen and when I would tell her I wanted to hear the stories she’d say “Who cares!  They’re all dead now.”  Yes, she was a difficult woman to like.

On the other hand, my grandma loved to laugh and could be brought to tears with laughter, she was always helping out other residents less fortunate than herself in the rest home, she loved her chocolate,  and I cannot knock her tenacity.  Despite her physical difficulties, she survived 30+ years in rest homes.  Her doctors had given her 5 years to live after the brain tumor operation.  She was 62 then.  She died at the age of 92 in 2006.

Joao Pacheco “Bohne” Smith was born on board ship in San Francisco Bay in 1907.  His family was being smuggled from Hawaii to California as his father contracted leprosy and was to be deported to Molokai.  He was nicknamed Bohne after his favorite baseball player.

My grandparents met in the old neighborhood around E. 25th street.  My grandma’s sister, Viola, and one of Joao’s cousins were school friends.  I don’t imagine they ran in the same circles as there were 6 years between them.  As I mentioned my grandma was pregnant when they married.  It was just a couple weeks the stock market crash of 1929.

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My First Grandpa in 1928 just before he married my Grandma.

My grandfather worked in various jobs from laborer on the Spreckels Sugar Beet Farm to grave digger.  He was a custodian for a school in his later years.

Although Joao was my biological grandfather, I don’t relate to him as such.  I did not know him and for many years he wasn’t spoken of.  I knew from his death certificate that he had committed suicide and I got glimpse of his alcoholism and abuse from the few family stories that I heard.  When I started to interview cousins, I learned that he most likely was suffering from mental illness that was untreated.  He had his good side and then he had a dark side.  I had heard that he had gotten his life together in the early 1950s, just prior to his death.  I do not hide his history.  It is what it is.  I only feel sad for someone who needed help but did not get it.

My Grandma married twice after Joao.  One marriage lasted a month.  She then met up with Frank Shellabarger around 1959 and married him in 1960.  He would be the man I knew as Grandpa Frank, though I never met him.  He died a year after I was born.

Frank was born in Mt. Pleasant, IA in 1908.  I don’t much about his early years.  I know that he graduated from high school with about 12 other students.  He worked as a gas station attendant for awhile and also worked a Summer at Yellowstone Park.  He was married once before he met my Grandmother.  I am unsure if there were children from that marriage.

Frank is an intriguing man.  He was a house painter for Zelinsky and Sons when he married my Grandmother.  But, he also painted landscapes.  He seems to me to be the caricature of the 1950s male on the go and climbing the ladder of success.  He was a motivational speaker.  I found some fliers from his engagements.  I have a small book that he wrote on people’s personalities.  He had his pilot’s license.  He also had been in the process of taking out a patent for a device to hold paint cans.  I believe he died before the process was completed.  My Dad had one of the metal triangular frames he had made.  I saw him use it regularly though I had no idea Grandpa Frank had invented it.

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My Grandma and Grandpa Shellabarger ca 1961 (in the forefront).  I do not know who the other couple was.

I do not know where my Grandma met Frank.  She had an active night life in the 1950s, so I suspect it was at a bar.  They’re married life was brief, but happy.  He died in 1965.

I consider myself fortunate to have known three of my five grandparents.  I only wish I had  appreciated the time that I had with them.  And, of course, I wish I had asked more questions!

 

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Comments

  1. Wow. Your grandmother’s will to live was strong wasn’t it? Thanks for sharing these memories.

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