Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Interview with Grammy

This last fall our bigger boys did a series of interviews with most of their older family members. I just happened to remember about it this morning. When they interviewed their Grammy it was late October or early November. It was before we had news that the cancer had returned.
I acted as typist as the boys asked her our predetermined questions. I've tried to relay them as accurately as possible.

1. What is your name and how did you get it?
Shirley Lynn Jackson. Dad was a big fan of Shirley Temple. He chose my name. No nickname.

2. When and where were you born?
August 23, 1961. Napa, CA

3. Were there other family members in the area? Who?
The Rudds, the Neals, the Rileys

4. What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
In Williams above Grants Pass, OR it was a1 bedroom shack. There was no bathroom inside (we used an outhouse), no tub, no plumbing. Electricity was only in the kitchen. There were no telephones. Water was from an outdoor pump. Our cooking stove was a wood burning stove that also heated the house. Once a week we had a bath in a galvanized tub. The first one in got the hot water. I was the troublemaker so was always the last one in the tub.

5. Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
My Dad and Grandpa strung fishing line on the ceiling above the stove and would hang deer meat and turn it into jerky.

6. What is your earliest childhood memory?
I was about 7 and got my first bicycle. It was so heavy I had to keep trying to lift it so I could have enough strength to ride it.

7. What kind of games did you play growing up?
I spent a lot of time outside in the woods. We played tag. There was a creek nearby and we’d catch crawfish. We’d play Rummy inside around Thanksgiving.

8. What was your favorite toy and why?
A stick I carved into. My Dad would give me a type of knife every birthday so I would spend time whittling and carving into wood.

9. What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?
Swimming. I learned to roller skate then I would win contests speed skating at the roller rink. I won 6 out of the 10 I tried for.

10. Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
No. When school was out we’d pick strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. At youngest I started about 12 years old.

11. What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
Grade school was in Grants Pass, Oregon. My best subject was history. My worst was spelling and biology in high school.  High school was in Dallas, Oregon. We lived in an apartment complex across the street. I got picked on quite a bit because of my name but my Mom would curl my hair to look like Shirley Temple. The boys would pick on me and harass me until I learned to beat them up. I didn’t go to college. I went to vocational training school for cosmetology.

12. What school activities and sports did you participate in?
In the 70’s girls weren’t allowed to do a whole lot but I did track, the pole vault. I was really good at tennis. I did a lot of hiking, climbing and swimming.

13. Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
There were bell bottom pants, mini skirts, straight long hair.

14.Who were your childhood heroes?
Wonderwoman. I wished I could be like her.

15. What were your favorite songs and music?
The Beach Boys.

16. Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names?
We had 2 dogs. A german shepherd named Cally and a pug named Sparky.

17. What was your religion growing up? What church, if any, did you attend?
Pentecostal Church of God. I didn’t like it. It was super, super strict.

18. Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
Yes, for being the youngest youth leader for our church. I was 16. We were raising money for everyone to go to camp. We put on a car wash. It was such a big hit everybody had CB radios and the semi trucks came in to have us wash their trucks. There were pictures of us on ladders trying to wash these big trucks.

19. Who were your friends when you were growing up?
I was a tomboy so a lot of my friends were guys. Charles was my best friend.

20. What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? Did any of them personally affect your family?
Jonestown- trying to create a utopia but it magnified into a cult. They bought property. Everyone drank koolaid with poison at gunpoint. Made me look at my own religion differently.
1 year later Elvis died. All the girls were crying all over the place.

21. Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking? What were your favorite foods?
We very seldom ate together. Mom worked 3 to midnight. I was in charge of cooking. Dad taught me how to cook.
We would eat together for Thanksgiving with all the cousins and aunts and uncles. There was so much smoking it looked like a bar. One thing I really liked was the veggie tray. I kept doing it as a tradition.
Steak, shrimp and corn on the cob are my favorites.

22. How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
Christmas was gifts under the tree when my parents had money. Dad would cut a tree from the forest. For birthdays we weren’t allowed parties. It was just another day. We would get one gift. I had to learn to hunt and fish so my presents were usually hunting knives, fillet knives or fishing gear.

23. How is the world today different from what it was like when you were a child?
We never had to lock our doors or cars. There were no computers or cell phones. People actually talked to each other. We would go on picnics in the summer at the nearest creek. Everyone from the area would go there to go swimming.

24. Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
My Grandma Neal. She was a very reserved person. Didn’t talk about family history or anything. When her husband died she told us her family was Cherokee Indian. She was in her early 70’s with snow white hair. Her skin was a dark reddish brown color.

25. What do you know about your family surname?
They Rileys were actually O’Riley (Scottish or Irish). Neal was part German.

26. What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
My Great Grandmother was in her 90’s when I was probably 5. She would tell stories of coming from Oklahoma to California in a covered wagon. She was 3 when that happened. We have a more distant relative that is over 100 who has and tends her own land still.

27. Are there any stories about famous or infamous people in your family?
Not that I was told. Family history was a big secret no one talked about.

28. Have any recipes been passed down to you from family members?
A pancake recipe from my Great Grandma Rudd and a banana bread recipe. My Grandma Neal gave me a chili and sweet cornbread recipe.

29. Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
High cheekbones. Red or black hair. One side is white with freckles. Other side is tan and dark brown hair. My little toe curls up under the other toes. It’s viking in origin, I think?

30. Are there any special heirlooms, photos, Bibles or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
A vanity that was my Grandmothers from 1940’s. A family Bible. A picture my Great Grandmother painted on a cardboard box during the depression.

31. When and how did you meet your spouse? What did you do on dates?
We met on base at the country bar he was working at. We became good friends then he asked me out on a date. Dated 5-6 months. I didn’t know he was in the military.

32. What was it like when you were proposed to? Where and when did it happen? How did you feel?
It was at the club. He took a day off to be with me. He arranged with the DJ to play “I Can Love You Like That.” It melted my heart and I had tears on my cheek. He proposed. A whole club was full of people. I told him yes. I still say that was the happiest day I’ve had in my life.

33. Where and when did you get married?
We hired a justice of the peace. We were at her house overlooking the beach on a balcony. We had a 2nd wedding ceremony at our house with all the kids so they wouldn’t feel left out.

34. What memory stands out the most from your wedding day?
The sunset coming over the beach was so beautiful.

35. How would you describe your spouse? What do you admire most about them?
He’s a very strong individual, kind and gentle, When he proposed I accepted but because I would be going back into a wheelchair I gave him his ring back. He chose to take care of me no matter what.

36. What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage?
Open communication. We talk about everything. We take a break when we’re angry so we try not to say things we don’t mean.

37. How did you find out your were going to be a parent for the first time?
I felt like I was pregnant but the clinic said I wasn’t. They told me when I was 5 months pregnant and showing! I did a needle test to try to figure out gender. It was going to be a boy.

38. Why did you choose your children's names?
Papa Pickle picked out Paul for his name. I decided he’d be a junior. Dana’s name was supposed to be Christy Lynn but the family laughed and said they’d call her crusty pickle. I got frustrated and changed the name.

39. What was your proudest moment as a parent?
Your Dad got in trouble but he was very smart. In 3rd grade he made a bet with a kid about when the bus would arrive at a certain time (because he had watched and knew). The kid lost but didn’t have the $5. Dad tried to charge him $2 a day interest. The kid stole the money out of his mom’s purse when it reached $40. She told me about it and I talked to your Dad. It was a wrong thing to do and I made him give the money back but it showed just how smart he was.

40. What did your family enjoy doing together?
We bought old fashioned water guns one time and we chased each other all over the house squirting each other.

41. What was your profession and how did you choose it?
Cosmetologist- hair and nails. I used to play with my Mom’s hair.

42. If you could have had any other profession what would it have been? Why wasn't it your first choice?
Geologist. I have always loved rocks and stones.

43. What accomplishments were you the most proud of?
At 33 I never graduated from high school so I went to an adult school for my GED and passed. The school asked if I could take one more test and was able to get my high school diploma. I walked with a cap and gown.

44. What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
I want people to remember that I loved all my kids and my grandkids and no matter what will always be there to support them and never give up.


  1. Oh my goodness, thank you for sharing that. What great information to pass on to the grandchildren, some parts so terribly sad, others too funny. I have to agree that Dana is a much better name then Crusty Pickle. Of course, now that fried pickles are so common it wouldn't be so bad. I really enjoyed this. I feel like I know Shirley despite having met her just once.

  2. Oh my goodness, thank you for sharing that. What great information to pass on to the grandchildren, some parts so terribly sad, others too funny. I have to agree that Dana is a much better name then Crusty Pickle. Of course, now that fried pickles are so common it wouldn't be so bad. I really enjoyed this. I feel like I know Shirley despite having met her just once.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Nicole and as well as finding the time to help the boys with this project, little did we know back then how soon we'd lose her. I feel like we have a better glimpse into her life. Love you

  4. This is so wonderful that I wish everyone could do this for the people who love them. I didn't know a lot of this and it made me feel even prouder to call her friend. She struggled so hard as a child, yet she learned how to find joy and her calling in life.