Fearless Females: Grandma Was A Radical!

[Fearless Females, 17th of March, Social Organizations and Groups…a report from 2011

Not really.  But it makes for a great headline.  LOL

I don’t know what organizations my Grandma Shellabarger belonged to while raising her family.  I don’t really think she had much time for them to tell you the truth.

In the 1980s, she was in her 70s and in a rest home due to partial paralysis after a brain tumor.  This was before skilled and intermediate patients could be housed together.  My Grandma only needed minimal care.  Her mind was quick even if her body was not.

While she was at one rest home in Alameda, Alameda County, California, she got involved in many of the different activities and groups.  I was in my young 20s and had my own political views about Reagan and the economy (I was not in favor of either).   I had no idea of my Grandma’s political leanings except that she believed FDR saved the country.

So, I was quite surprised the day she came over for dinner and at the dinner table talked about her activities with the Gray Panthers.  The Gray Panthers is an organization whose members are Senior Citizens who are politically active.  My Grandma hated Ronald Reagan.  Her chapter of the Gray Panthers were working on getting him impeached.  She was involved in such radical activities like writing letters to the editor, writing to her Senator, signing petitions, and stuffing envelopes.

This may have been the first time that I realized that my Grandma was much more than the old woman who had the brain tumor.  She was quite opinionated and forthright.  The brain tumor caused her problems (like the paralysis), but her mind was sharp as a tack well into her late 80s.  It made me feel good to know that a group like the Gray Panther saw my disabled Grandma as important even after when she was in a rest home.  Working towards Reagan’s impeachment, even if unsuccessful, gave her some purpose in life–in between ceramics and embroidery.

I wish I knew more about her activities prior to the brain tumor.  But, I can pass this one on to the next generation.  Grandma Shellabarger was politically active and once she worked to impeach the president.


Advent Calendar: The Lost Pajamas

(Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories Day 10: Gifts)

As I wrote about my doll, Tippy Toes, for the Smile for the Camera Edition #19, I thought I’d bring back my story about Grandma’s pajamas.  Though the pajamas weren’t necessarily my favorite gifts to receive (what five year old dreams of pajamas?), but they do bring back some of the warmest memories.

It was a tradition to receive handmade pajamas from Grandma Lassalle.  It was also a tradition for Grandma to lose a couple sets every year…

My Grandma was a fine seamstress.  She sewed everything.  Each year she made pajamas for all the grandkids.  That was alot of kids, let me tell you!

We were expected at Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve.  We’d eat some food and open gifts.  It was our once a year get together with all the cousins.

The scene inside was always the same.  Cousins scattered throughout the house.  Uncle Vernon quizzing my brother on math.  My Aunt Julie helping Grandpa get in place to play Santa.

The living room was always the same with the fake tree with with a rotating light spinning red and green on the tree.  It was very modern and somewhat mesmerizing.

And, there was Grandma searching through the packages.  She wasn’t checking to see if her name was on any tags.  Nope!  Every year Grandma lost someone’s pajamas.  Sometimes they were in the wrong box.  Sometimes hidden in her bedroom.  And, sometimes the recipient didn’t get their pajamas until Spring.

It’s one of my fondest memories.  It makes me smile because I’m a little absent minded like Grandma.  I’ve lost presents before.  We draw names and I’ve bought presents for the wrong people.  So, when I laugh at poor ol’ Grandma and her lost pajamas, I’m laughing at me too.  I guess some things are handed down.


Where were you when the Loma Prieta Quake Struck?

Damage in the Marina District, San Francisco

Damage in the Marina District, San Francisco

Today marks the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. 17 October 1989 started out as a day of hope and excitement. People were excited about the Bay Bridge Series between the A’s and the Giants. They got in their cards, sat down in a seat on a BART train, or waited for the bus to come.

The quake struck at 5:04 pm at the height of rush hour traffic. It measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale. It’s epicenter in the Santa Cruz mountains. The tremors were felt throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Damage could be found all over the region from Santa Cruz to Sacramento. The worst of it was when the Cypress Freeway Structure and a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. In all 69 people died and 3,757 were injured. If it weren’t for folks leaving work early to watch the World Series, things might have been alot worse.

Do you remember where you were when the earthquake struck? I sure do. I remember being in a great mood as I left work. I couldn’t wait to get home as my niece, who was 2 years old, had spent the day with my Mom and she’d still be at the house when I got home. I also was thrilled that the A’s were playing the Giants and might have a chance to beat them.

I left the Fremont Library and walked towards the BART station. The sky seemed so still and it was a beautiful day. I was half way to the station when the earthquake hit. I remember watching the building ahead of me wavering against the sky. The ground rumbled and bounced and then it was over.

To be honest, it didn’t think it was all that big of a deal. Once it was over, I continued on my merry way. When I got to the BART nothing seemed out of the ordinary. They announced that there would be a delay as they checked the system. So me and half the Bay Area (or so it seems) sat in our seats on the trains and waited…and waited…and waited.

About a half hour later it became clear that those trains weren’t going anywhere. They finally announced that we should get off the trains. I still hadn’t realized the magnitude of the disaster. I was more irritated by the fact that I was stranded in Fremont and might not get home in time to see my niece–after all, she was my only niece at the time!

I went down to the lower deck of the station and tried to call home, but all the lines were jammed. So, without anything better to do, I walked back to work. It wasn’t until I got back to my section where everyone was watching TV, that I realized something big had happened. I saw images of the Cypress Structure and the Bay Bridge. I saw houses in San Francisco with garages underneath buckled. I heard that people were trapped in rubbled in Santa Cruz. I watched all this and I could not assimilate that the minor earthquake I had felt caused all this damage.

I eventually was able to get through on the phone and arranged for my brother to come get me. He had been driving home and never even felt the earthquake!

Back home, the electricity was out and we were informed not to use the gas until it was determined it was safe. So, we did our best rendition of a camp out and lit up the BBQ. I was bummed out that my niece was picked up right after the quake as her parents wanted her nearby.

I think it took me a couple hours in the darkness to start to process what had happened. It wasn’t until we got our power back later that night and we had the TV on that I realized we had just been through a major disaster.

The whole experience was surreal. I remember the next day feeling so weird. The authorities asked people to stay home and we did. It seemed that we did nothing for days but watch images on TV, hoping and praying for survivors. We waited to see if the much anticipated Bay Bridge Series would continue, and we couldn’t really careless if it did, but we knew that we must move forward.  At work, we added a donation can to our Halloween celebrations and sent the money to one of the small cities that experienced alot of damage.

I can still remember watching on TV as they pulled people out of the Cypress Structure, and prayed along as a group of friends in Santa Cruz called out the name of their friend who was trapped in a building and had not been found. There was the image of A’s and Giants player clinging to the fence around the stadium looking as shocked and out of place as the rest of us. There was the guy who was rescued from his car after several days of being trapped, only to die soon after.

I think the most enduring story was one of heroism in a place you wouldn’t expect to find it. The Cypress Freeway Structure boardered a bad neighborhood.  One of the houses faces the structure was a crack house. One guy heard the crash and rumble of the crumbling concrete. He was in that crack house. Without thinking, he grabbed a ladder and crawled into the collapsed structure. He then proceeded to pull people out without concern for his own safety. There is something about a disaster that brings out the best in people.

So, where were you when the earthquake struck? I know where I was and I doubt that I will ever forget the experience.

View photographs from the disaster

Data from the USGS pertaining to the Loma Prieta earthquake

Photographs of damage from the USGS

Remembering Loma Prieta (photos and stories from the Exploratorium)

(Photograph in the public domain. Courtesy of the USGS.)

Other bloggers have written about the Loma Prieta earthquake. Read their stories:
Footnote Maven: I Too Survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake

Destination: Austin Family: I Survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake

(This is a repost of my memories of the Loma Prieta earthquake)