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Davis Journal

Challenges through history show us who we are, can be

Jul 12, 2022 02:58PM ● By Louise R. Shaw

My grandmother was six years old when her mother died from Spanish Flu during the pandemic of 1918 and 1919. 

She was the second of five children, her baby brother only two months old, and things did not get easier when her father remarried several years later.

Near as I can tell by looking back at history from 100-plus years away, she was just a child during World War I, so may not have known the strain that would have come to her mother, who had immigrated from Austria and whose family remained there. Both her mother’s brother and father, still in Austria, died from the Spanish flu less than a month before her mother’s death in Utah. 

My grandmother was old enough to feel the effects of the Great Depression, as she would have been dating and marrying and starting her family during those years of financial collapse and high unemployment.

During the second world war, she lived with her young family in Portland, Oregon, where her husband worked on PT boats for the war effort. Like so many others around the country, they had to dim their lights when they drove and place black-out curtains on their windows for fear of attack. Her husband traded his liquor rations for gas rations so they could get enough gas to drive to the beach or home to Utah when their family needed help.

I can’t help but think of the circumstances in her early life when I see the challenges we currently face. 

Somehow, paying more for gas doesn’t seem as bad as needing to trade a ration card to even get it. Getting a vaccine a year into a pandemic seems a great blessing when I realize my great grandmother died a year after that pandemic had started. 

I was blessed to have known my grandmother.

She lived until I was in my mid-20s. I never heard her complain. 

I knew her as a quiet, gracious woman who made sweaters and dresses for me and my siblings when we were young and lived out of state, and who cooked delicious meals and served them on her best china when we were older and had moved back to her hometown. 

Those meals always featured colorful centerpieces even though my grandfather would complain that the space they took up should be used for food. She arranged them anyway because she knew the world needs more than food and wanted us to feel that too.

She always had cookies in her cookie jar for us when we visited. She was always interested in and supportive of whatever we were doing. She had me over one night and taught me to sew.

Another thing I remember about my grandmother was the dainty scarves she always wore to hide the scars that we would sometimes see anyway, and the quiet tick we could hear with every beat of her heart.

A childhood bout with rheumatic fever had made two open-heart surgeries necessary later in life. Both were carried out under the expert care of the man she called Dr. Nelson, who we now call President Russell M. Nelson. Each surgery gave her another 10 years of life. 

We were grateful for the dainty scarves and the quiet tick and the 20 more years we had with her.

My grandmother, and those in her generation, faced many challenges we don’t have today thanks to modern medicines and technical advancements and diplomatic efforts or maybe sometimes just luck. Or blessings. 

Those in her generation worked together to deal with whatever they faced and fix whatever needed fixing. And by doing so, they made things better for the generations that came after them.


Now it’s our turn. To work together and make things better. And to not complain. 

My grandmother showed me that even when life is full of challenges, it is possible to be gracious and generous and grateful.

She didn’t say it.

She lived it. λ