“Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively; unless you can choose a challenge instead of competence.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
My Dad’s mom, Ida, was born in New York City in 1888, her mother died in child birth leaving her in the care of a nursery maid and the housekeeper. My great grandfather (a railroad executive) remarried a wonderful woman who became a loving mother to Ida. Her childhood days were filled with her studies, she had a tutor who inspired her love of Science, especially astronomy. Ida was very musical, she had a beautiful singing voice and was an accomplished organist. Ida was an avid horse woman, riding sidesaddle on the riding paths near her home.
After the death of her stepmother, Ida became very adept at running a household with the housekeeper and cook’s help, of course. Ida looked at a solar eclipse without proper eye protection in her early 20’s which nearly blinded her. Despite her weak eyesight, Ida joined one of the local hunt clubs and began wearing jodhpurs and sitting astride on an English saddle. As a young woman with many opportunities in life, my grandmother became involved with a philanthropic group whose mission was promoting educational opportunities for women. One of Ida’s volunteer jobs was reading to children at the local orphanage. As a devout Episcopalian, Ida quickly stepped in when the church organist died.
My grandfather, Wilson, an only child, living with his widowed mother, pumped the organ while Ida played at church every Sunday and they fell in love. Wilson went on to Yale for his bachelor’s and a doctorate in geology but that was not enough for Ida’s father to approve her hand in marriage, Wilson needed a job and a home. Wilson spent seven years riding horseback and sleeping under the stars all over Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming working for Ohio Oil. When he was given a company car and a house, Ida took the train with her future mother in law from New York to Wyoming to be married. The two women who left the bustling streets of New York City were greeted by huge tumbleweeds blowing down the wild, dusty streets of Laramie, Wyoming. Luckily, the luxurious Connor Hotel with indoor plumbing and electric lights, was a short drive from the train station.
In 1919, Laramie was still a Frontier town whose site was determined by the Union Pacific Railroad. Cattle and sheep ranches, hunting and trapping, and the oil fields were the primary employers of Laramie residents. After my grandparents quiet marriage ceremony at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral, cowboys were racing their horses in front of the hotel whooping it up and shooting their guns. My great grandmother was terrified that the cowboys were there to kidnap Ida and Wilson and insisted that Ida stay the night with her. It turns out that there were two newlywed couples in the hotel that night. Thankfully, the Shivaree was for the other couple who were kidnapped and dunked in a horse trough while being serenaded by the group of raucous cowboys.
Married life with an oil man was always full of surprises, the family was transferred every two to three years. My grandfather climbed to the top of the corporate ladder and retired at 65 years old. My grandparents spent their retirement traveling the world, they rode elephants in Africa and drank Sake and slept on futons in Japan. Ida never took to the Western style of horseback riding, she rode her English saddle until her 60’s. She never really learned to cook but loved to entertain and would host lavish dinners.
Some of my favorite memories were with “Grandma,” I had a weekly invitation to dinner at her house, her cook always prepared my favorite foods; lamb chops, mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, asparagus, and chocolate eclairs. We would sit in her bedroom and I would go through her jewelry box, she would tell me the stories of each piece. She had several of her jeweled hat pins made into rings for me. I have her cameo bracelet and brooch that she bought in Italy, several gold chokers, and the creepy ring containing her dead mother’s hair (popular during the Victorian Era).
Grandma was a brave, optimistic woman who always had a kind word for everyone. She witnessed many important inventions such as the telephone, cars, planes, penicillin, helicopters, nuclear bomb, microwave ovens, seat belts, polio vaccine, and the first man on the moon. She grieved over the deaths of her husband and both of her sons, but she lived life to the fullest every single day of her 91 years. I sometimes look in the mirror and see my grandmother, Ida, looking back at me, she is my history.