- Written by Jeff Summers Jeff Summers
All my life I have tried to stay close to my grandmother. Part of that closeness was out of respect, something I have been taught all of my life. Probably the bigger reason though was because of the immense love I had for Grandma Olsen.
It was easy keeping in contact; all I had to do was pick up the phone and dial her number or jump in a car and go to grandma’s house. I always marveled that within two words she knew who it was and was always excited to visit.
The last few visits though were a little different. The conversation would always find its way to talking about this day and this time. It seemed like every time I went to visit her lately she wanted to tell me some other detail about her funeral. It used to bother me and I would break down after talking to her. The thoughts of not having her in my life were just too painful. But in her own way Grandma was doing what she always did, preparing me for the inevitable.
I can’t count the number of times Grandma would remind me that she wanted me to write this life sketch and “make it short”. I would remind her that she was just going to have to trust me on this one. It’s impossible to sum up the influence grandma had on each of us in a short time. I know that she and grandpa are here with us today and somewhere in the middle of this story she will lean over and tell grandpa that she told me not to talk very long. At that point I hope grandpa pats her on the hand like he always did and tells her that he’s enjoying hearing all the love her family has for her. She can yell at me when we’re reunited sitting around the dinner table while grandpa takes a nap.
On June 25, 1918 Moses Dunkley Watterson and Lucy W. Biggs Watterson welcomed their fourth child into their loving family. Velma Biggs Watterson Olsen was the fourth child and the second daughter in the family following Moses, Woodrow, and Ardella. Jane and Joe would follow making their family complete. Grandma grew up in Logan living in several different places as Grandpa Watterson provided for his family. Grandma always talked about how close her family was. There were times they may have seemed too close but they cared for and respected each other.
Grandma was perhaps closest to her younger sister Jane who is just a year younger. When we would visit Aunt Jane she and grandma Olsen would tell the most amazing stories most of which always seemed to end up with one or the other getting into trouble. There was some debate on who was the bigger troublemaker but I have my hunch it was Grandma Olsen.
Perhaps her favorite story with her and Jane was when they went to Ardella’s door and knocked on the door then ran. Ardella would answer and no one would be there. They did this several times never getting caught. Ardella decided she was going to catch them so the next time she answered the door she jumped out and yelled, “BOO!” Unfortunately for Ardella, it was not Jane and grandma at the door, it was the dogcatcher who got more of a greeting than he could ever have expected. Years later Jane and grandma would still burst into laughter until they cried recounting the story.
Velma first met Dean Olsen when she was just 12 years old. They were at a church dance and Dean asked her to dance mostly because he felt sorry for Moses’ kid sister. Dean made quite an impression on Velma because she remembered him fondly a few years later when he asked her to go to Junior Prom at Cache High School. It should have been an amazing dance but Dean came down with the measles and they were unable to attend. It didn’t stop this budding romance though. After that they dated regularly and on Christmas Eve in 1935 Dean asked Velma to marry him. They planned the date and were sealed for time and all eternity in the Salt Lake City Temple on June 18, 1936.
They lived in Garfield Utah for 10 years while Dean worked for Kennecot Copper. During their time in Garfield Velma and Dean would have two children; VelDean born in 1940 and Heber born in 1943. Two years later Dean and Velma would move to Ammon Idaho into a small two-bedroom house that we all know and love. While it was small in stature, it was the biggest house in town when measured by the amount of love contained in its walls. Shortly after moving to Idaho Bob was born and Janet would arrive three years later to complete their family.
Grandma always took time with her family, especially her kids to do special things for each of them. Mom would tell stories of when she was a kid and wanting to be a good Jacks player. Grandma would get down on the floor every day when mom came home from school and they would practice. Few people know but my grandmother was an amazing jacks player. I lost many a licorice stick while trying to dethrone her. I guess that’s one of the difficulties being the oldest grandchild, no one warned me that my grandmother was a jacks hustler.
The thing that people remember most about Grandma Olsen was the special relationship she had with her family. She and Grandpa were inseparable it seemed. If grandpa went for a drive grandma was by his side. If grandpa went fishing, grandma would patiently sit in the car doing crossword puzzles or read novels until he returned. If grandpa went hunting, grandma was at the campsite making sure there was food on the table when the hunt was over.
It was the food that made grandma’s special. It seemed as though whatever day or time you picked to visit, grandma was making something in the kitchen. Whether it was the smell of bacon and fried eggs in the morning or fresh baked bread in the afternoon, or fried chicken for dinner she always had something cooking. And it didn’t matter whether you were expected or not, grandma made sure you had a place at the table (once you washed your hands) and a plate of food.
Thanksgiving was always the most special time at grandma’s. The morning would start with the men all going duck hunting while the women stayed at home getting dinner ready. Despite grandpa promising to be home at a certain time they never were but somehow grandma anticipated that and dinner was ready and perfect when they walked through the door.
Grandma was especially proud of her pies. She made the most amazing pies I had ever seen. There were pumpkin, pecan, minced meat, and apple pies lined along the counter. She loved to bring them out at the end of the meal and pass them around before cutting them. As soon as I was old enough to reach the counter I began picking the perfectly crimped edges of crust off the pies unable to wait until dessert. I’ll never forget the look on her face when after dinner she went to bring out her perfect pies and not one of them had an edge of crust on them. I thought for sure she would kill me but instead she laughed and gave me a hug. The next year when we went to Thanksgiving, she had a separate pie tin with no filling, just crust. I was told I could eat all of that I wanted but I had to promise to leave the other pie crusts alone. I have a confession to make, when I got married, grandma pulled Trina aside and told her that whatever she did, she needed to make an extra pie crust for Thanksgiving if she wanted to make sure she had a good pie for dessert.
While grandma’s cooking skills will be talked about for years, it was her canning abilities that are legendary. Nearly anyone who ever visited went home with a bottle of something she had canned. Whether it was her chili sauce or a jam, or a vegetable grandma was always preserving something. And all you had to do was ask and she would spend hours teaching you her techniques.
Grandma and grandpa loved the outdoors. Some of the greatest memories all of us have are camping trips with grandma and grandpa. They would take their small camp trailer and head out into unknown territories. I say unknown territories because I don’t think I ever remember grandma or grandpa having a map. Come to think about it, most of the time I don’t remember even seeing a road where they turned off but we always ended up somewhere amazing.
Growing up, Rod and I had an opportunity to live with grandma and grandpa each summer. One year it was Yellowstone Park when we lived at West Thumb riding our bikes among the geysers. Grandma always worried we would somehow get into trouble but she never let on. She instilled confidence in us and trusted we would do the right thing.
Another year we lived in a trailer in McCammon Idaho while grandpa worked on a building at a rest area. The trailer was adjacent to a railroad yard that had corrals for cattle. It was possible to jump on a corral gate, swing to another gate, jump to that and go all around the stockyard without ever touching the ground. For two boys it was an amazing time. At the end of the day our hands would be swollen filled with slivers of wood from the gates. We would trudge home and grandma would set us on a chair and take out the slivers all while keeping our minds off the pain. It must have worked because the next day we would do it all over again.
Grandma’s love of family was especially true every summer. Family reunions were a big part of our summer plans. We would plan our vacations around the Watterson and the Olsen reunions. Grandma would always gather up whatever grandkids happened to be in town and take us with her. It seemed like whenever Rod, Dean, and I were together one of us would undoubtedly get hurt requiring a visit to an emergency room. Despite that, grandma insisted we go because we were family.
I never really understood the importance of that until a few short years ago. When it was grandma’s time to host the Watterson reunion we made the trip from Arizona as a surprise. All of grandma’s children were there. They always have an auction of homemade articles. Jan had made an amazing quilt that was put in the auction. Uncle Heb made sure he had enough tickets to ensure he won the auction then presented the quilt to grandma. It was one of the most touching tributes of a son to his mother that I ever witnessed and solidified for me how important it is to be part of a family, a lesson grandma instilled in all of us.
A tradition that was important to grandma was the weekly dinners she would have with Bob and his family. She loved sitting and listening to all of the stories and hearing what each of the family members were doing. She would listen intently with a smile on her face as they described the events of their week. Grandma was an amazing listener who always made you feel like what you were saying was the most important thing in the world.
One of the attributes of grandma that I was most proud of was her adventurous spirit. Whether it was acting as grandpa’s co-pilot on one of his infamous Sunday drives to trying something new grandma was always up for the challenge.
When the microwave oven came out grandma could have dismissed the new technology and stayed with tried and true methods. Instead she wanted to learn how to use the microwave. She did pretty well except for the time when she wanted to heat the honey in the plastic bear container and set it for 15 minutes instead of 15 seconds. We would laugh about the molten bear in the bottom of the microwave but I was still impressed she was willing to try. Grandma would try anything to stay connected to her family. Whether it was putting a computer in her living room to play games and get pictures from all of us or getting a cellphone to make sure she was available in case one of us called, she wanted nothing more than to be a part of her family’s lives.
Looking back at her life, I am amazed at the number of people who she has touched. Grandpa Olsen was truly blessed when he saw her for who she was. That meeting led the way to four amazing children, 14 grand children, 34 great-grand children, seven great-great grand children, and one great-great-great grandchild. How blessed we all are to have her be a part of our lives.
It’s hard losing a grandmother. It’s especially hard when you lose a grandmother like Grandma Olsen. She was a foundation in my life. She was the one constant in my universe. I knew whenever I needed someone to talk to or some comfort in my life that grandma would be there for me. That wasn’t just for me though, that was for everyone grandma came in contact with. She had a knack for knowing just the right thing to say or not to say.
With her passing I find myself with a large gaping hole. But if grandma taught me anything it is the importance of being prepared and preserving life through memories. So when I start to miss her I’ll reach over and take out a jar of grandma’s special preserves and open them up and bask in the wondrous memories that she gave to us. I’ve realized now that she wasn’t just canning foods, she was canning memories. She was setting them aside for times such as this when she wouldn’t be around.
It may be a long winter without having her by our sides but she will always be with us. It’s now up to us to take these lessons of canning life and teach it to those that we love, savoring each moment we have together and cherishing everything around us. It was a lesson grandma perfected in her 95 years of mortality but it will live on for generations to come thanks to this wonderful woman.
I am so thankful and so proud to tell everyone that I am her grandson. I love you grandma and I will miss our talks and your infectious laugh. I pray that you can now enjoy being reunited with those who went before you and I look forward to the day that I walk through that door and hear the sounds of you in the kitchen.
I hope this wasn’t too long, I just have a hard time not talking about how much your family and friends love you and how much we will miss you. Thank you for touching so many lives but most importantly, thank you for being my grandma.