I had three great-grandparents who were still alive when I was born: my paternal grandmother's dad, Grandpa Hansen; my maternal grandmother's mother, Nain; and my maternal grandfather's mother, Granny. I remember the latter two fairly well. Both died in the early 80s, so I had more than a decade to get to know them. I have fond memories of both. They came down to Washington from Vancouver BC to visit for holidays, and spent a great deal of time with us over the decade plus I knew them. I missed them both when they were gone, and I miss them even more now that I know their stories better because of my genealogical research.
Granny was born Mary Dunlop Park on January 8, 1891 to Robert and Elizabeth Park. She went by the name May. Her parents were Irish immigrants who had come to the US in 1883 and settled in Philadelphia, where there was a large Irish immigrant community. All nine of their children were born in Philadelphia, though the two eldest did not live past early childhood. May was their fifth born child, so they were well established in the country by the time she was born. Though the Irish community was large, it was looked down on by other locals. There was no distinction made between the Catholic and Protestant groups by outsiders. To those who wanted to abuse them, they were all Irish, and none of them deserved to be in their country.
When Robert and Elizabeth first came to Philadelphia, the worst nationalism had died down. Still, it was not easy to start over in a new country, but they did their best. Robert started practice as a carpenter and cabinet maker, and Lizzie set up a home for them, taking care of him and their children. By the time May was born, they were well established, and beginning to be comfortable in their new country. Then a new president was elected. In 1901, Teddy Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States, and like Barak Obama, he was disliked by the majority in Congress. He became president when the twenty-fifth president, William McKinley, died, but had to fight hard to win his next term. He managed to win with just 56% of the popular vote. By the end of his second term, the country was not in a great place, and much of the backlash was against immigrants. By the mid 1900s. Robert had had enough and moved his family back to Ireland.
May found herself in a new country. I really don't know much about her time there, though I believe at least some of her aunts and uncles may still have lived there. I do know that by 1911, she was working as a shop girl in the city of Belfast, as the family was listed as living there at the time. They didn't stay long, though. It was probably the best choice, as things were already growing tense in Ireland, and it was this growing tension that led to the formation of Northern Ireland, which would eventually lead to the Troubles. Luckily one of May's sisters married and moved to Canada with her husband, and wrote back to her family telling them how wonderful the country was, and how different from the US. Enticed by her letters, the family moved again, settling in Vancouver, BC. I'm not entirely sure when they left, but we know they were living there by 1912, when May's elder brother George died.
At the time, Vancouver BC was a boom town, attracting people from all over the world. Three branches of my family came here and settled: my maternal great-grandmother and her family, who settled in Vancouver after moving from Winnipeg, and before that, Wales; my mother's father's family who travelled from Norway to Belgium to England before finally settling in Vancouver; and the Parks. May's sister was already married and settled in the area, but before the decade was out, three more of the six remaining children married and settled in the greater Vancouver area.
|May and Bjarne (right) with their siblings Henry and Marge on their wedding day|
May met her husband some time before 1917. He was one of three boys who had come to Vancouver with their parents, Norwegian immigrants who had already become citizens while living in England. Bjarne and May were married June 14, 1917. They had two boys; George in 1918, and Henry (called Harry) in 1923. They stopped with those two, though after Harry's death at the beginning of World War II, May said she often wished she'd had more. She was used to having lots of family around her, but her youngest sister was the only other one of the Park siblings to have children, and that was about a decade after Harry was born. She and her family were also across the country from the rest of the family, so she was not able to visit with them often. As her siblings aged, her family grew smaller. Luckily the year Harry died, her first grandchild was born. And once her elder son returned from the war, he and his wife had three more.
|Bjarne & May with their eledest son, George ca 1918|
|Their sons, George and Harry|
She lost her husband Bjarne in 1950 when he was crossing the street near their home and was hit by a car. After that, his brother took over as the patriarch of the family. May's sister moved into their home so that she was not alone. Most of my memories of Granny also include her sister Marge. She was the only one of the girls never to marry, so she and Granny spent much of their declining years together.
|Granny holding me, her son George and sister Rhoda in the doorway|
One of my all-time favorite pictures of me is one of Granny holding me shortly after my birth. Not only did she have four grandchildren, but now here she was with her first great-grandchild. I'd seen the picture many times growing up, but it was only after I began to realize how much she'd lost by that point that I began to realize just how lovely the picture was. At that moment, she was seeing the future of her family, someone she thought she would never get to meet. The continuation of her line. It's one of my favorite shots.
Late in her life, my grandfather decided to move her down to Washington, so that she would be closer in case anything happened to her. He got a place for her at a Masonic nursing home through his connections as a Mason, and she was well cared for there. But she hated it. She hated living in the country that had treated her family so badly, and she hated that they called her Mary and not May. She did stay busy, though. I remember visiting her with my grandparents several times, and I received a patchwork blanket from her one Christmas that she had made with the help of several of the residents there.
May died June 17, 1982 at the age of 91. I only have fleeting memories of the service, but I do remember it was at her nursing home. It was a lovely service. I do feel like every time I look at her date of death, it's earlier than I remember it, for some reason. Not just because time keeps passing, either. Somehow it feels like I had her longer than I did. She was a wonderful woman who never stopped wanting the best for her family. I miss her a lot. At least I still have her in pictures.