My Grandma & Grandpa

Apr

10

2006

My Grandma was a spy for the FBI. Most people look at me funny when I tell them this because they know that I like to make up stories, and they wonder if this isn’t just another fanatical dramatization in my life. But this one’s true, promise. She was a spy on the Communist Party in southern California in the 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s. Cool huh?

grandma1Actually, everything about my grandma is cool. In the 1940’s she became the first ever co-ed to take an auto mechanics class at Brigham Young University. She writes books. She does geneology. She tried to join the Peace Core once, but they wouldn’t let her in because of her FBI background. She raised a family of seven children in a two bedroom, one bathroom home. And she makes the best salsa in the world.

I ran away to my grandma’s house once. It was the summer I was twenty. Too old to run away? I did it anyway. I had just broken up with a boy I was sure I loved. After I broke up with him he told me he was about to buy me a ring. Try that for changing a girl’s mind. But you have to stick to your guns . . . I guess.

So I ran away. I didn’t want him to call me. I didn’t want the concerned, pitying looks from my family. I wanted to get away to somewhere were no one knew anything about what had happened. I had a cousin in town who was driving down to see my grandma. I went.

Grandma didn’t know anything about what had been going on with him and me. Then my dad, overly concerned I might do something irrational (like what? Run away?) called, and told her. She asked me about it the next morning. “Are you sure about breaking up with this boy?” she asked.

“Yep,” I was afraid I was in for another lecture like the countless I had received all summer.

“Okay then” she said. I never heard another word about it.

Grandma makes the best salsa in the entire world, and I am the greatest fan of it. She sent me cases of it to school every fall, and it was always gone before the Christmas holidays. I’m addicted. Just the smell makes my tongue salivate, and my tummy feel comfy and roomy — and I think to myself “I should like some chips and salsa now” and then Grandma asks “Would you like some chips and salsa” and I say “yes.” And then we sit at her table in her kitchen decorated with sunflower pictures and a stool painted green with a sunflower on top of it, and we eat chips and salsa and Grandma tells me stories.

grandma2
Grandpa & Grandma

My Grandpa ran away to the circus. Promise. It was the Depression, and things were hard, and he didn’t really get along with his dad. So when the circus came, he went.

I used to daydream about running away to the circus. When I was about fourteen, my best friend Andi & I snuck into one. Barnum & Bailey. It was great. There were dancing elephants and flying trapeze artists and bareback riders! Andi and I wanted to go with them when they left. We would be the new bareback riders, and our horses would be beautiful and snowy white with long magical manes and silvery tails. The whole rest of the day we talked about it as if it were true. As if we were already part of the circus. As if we already had our horses, and we lived an enchanted life of riding and dancing and showing and BEING in the circus. We were sure anyone who might be listening would think we were famous riders, and they would be impressed.

But my grandpa really did run away to the circus. He wasn’t a bareback rider. He was more like a stable boy. But then he did Black Face comedy. It was style common in the 30’s. The actors would paint their faces black and do slapstick skits. He was great.

Then the war came, and he joined the army. Besides the cirucs and the army, he was also a miner. When I was a little kid, my dad used to tell me stories about him. The only one I really remember was the one where Grandpa was walking home form the mind down to his camp. He was walking and he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around, but all he could see was the darkness. He walked a while longer, and still he could hear the rustling of something behind him. He turned–nothing. On a few more yards, and the sound was closer. He turned, and there in the darkness, all he could see was two golden eyes glowing in the darkness. That’s where my dad would stop . . . leaving me to the mercy of my five year old imagination.

Grandpa was a photographer too. He was really well known in LA. His studio was at the bottom of the hill where they lived. My dad showed it to me when I was a kid. Last time I was in LA, I drove by. It’s been torn down, and the house had been changed dramatically — it was for sale.

I’ve seen some of his work — pieces for newspapers, portraits of famous people, but my favorite is one that hangs in my Uncle Bub’s house. It’s a picture of a church window – with the light filtering through, illuminating the dust in the air. And through the window you can just catch the soft outlines of buildings outside . . . life outside.

Grandpa met Grandma while he was in the army. She was the one that introduced him to the Church. He joined, and a year later they were married. He was 36, she was 22. “Weren’t your parents worried about marrying someone so much older?” I asked as we sat in the kitchen, eating chips and salsa.

“Oh, they probably were. But I had prayed about it. And I knew it was right. So I didn’t worry about it at all.”

** Click here to read an article written about my grandparents and their experiences as FBI informants, from BYU magazine.

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