Old Photographs

An Unexpected Gift from Grandma

The women in my family are very sentimental. Admittedly, I share this trait. My mother has always held onto the little keepsakes that were passed down from our relatives. Recently, she remarried and is in the process of selling her home in order to move abroad with her husband. This means getting rid of an enormous amount of boxes containing dolls, artwork, knick-knacks and vintage furniture. To my annoyance, she’d dropped off several boxes at my apartment; including, but not limited to, clothes I wore in 7th grade, report cards, science fair ribbons and other useless memorabilia. I don’t have a ton of space in my home so I’ve been sorting through the boxes and slowly getting rid of things. I was having the usual thoughts of “Oh, why is anyone still hanging onto this?” when I stumbled upon a scrapbook and a journal belonging to my grandma Iva from 1934.

Iva had a relatively humble upbringing, spending time on her grandparents’ farm in rural Illinois and living in the Northern suburbs of Chicago, so it was amazing to see her donning furs and hats like a big city girl. She was 21 years old at the time and, of course, was really into dating and going out. I always knew she’d met my grandfather at Aragon Ballroom, but it was funny to read the experiences with the guys she was dating at the time, namely a guy named Art who she went on exactly 26 dates with before she met my grandpa Ray. One entry reads: “June 10. No date. Went to Aragon. Danced one dance with Art. He took the blonde that danced with Dick home. Oh well- I think I know his type.” 

The entries are short and succinct, but it was really cool to read the names of their haunts in early 1930s Chicago. Besides the Aragon, they frequented Planet Mars, Silhouette Club, Via Lago, The Granada Theatre, Howard Street (mostly for sodas and sandwiches), Humboldt Park, and in one entry she had eaten breakfast “under the Granville ‘L’.”

She never failed to document what she ate- lots of sodas, cakes and ice cream- and later complained of a tooth ache (wonder why). She also always wrote down how many drinks she’d had. “5 whiskey sours”, “3 rum high-balls”, and Marilyn Monroe cocktails. She talks about boys driving her home, “necking” in the car, and always documented what time she got in. I loved seeing the first mention of my grandpa Ray: “8 whiskey sours. Ray very nice. I felt fine.” - to reading about their little fights: “Thurs night. Ray and I to Planet Mars. Me angry at Ray. Had one shot. Ray said he was disappointed in me because he thought I had a lot of boyfriends. He asked me if I had a collection of fellows pictures. Nuts.” She eventually started referring to him as her honey. 

On the last page of the diary, she had written Ray’s name over and over and tallied how many dates they’d been on- a whopping 64 compared to Art’s 26. I’m glad she chose Ray Jensen.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that Iva passed away on this exact day, February 12, 1996. I was 8 years old and watched as she died of a heart attack, which was a very traumatic experience for a child. We were close as could be- I would call her and sing the Mr. Rogers theme song..”Won’t you be my neighbor?” I always regretted that she died so early on in my life. Like my mother, she kept a lot of things that may have been insignificant to the outside world, but this discovery was invaluable. What a treasure trove of memories. Thank you for this incredible gift, Grandma.