A Grandson Remembers His Grandma

William Torgerson Olga Russell Winamac, Indiana Russell's Old Trading Post death obituary faith God prayer

Grandma and Me in Charlotte, NC

You might be surprised to know that my grandma Ogie was quite the volley balloon player.  This was a made up game that my sister and I used to play with her when we’d visit her house on Highway 14 across from the Tippecanoe River in Winamac, Indiana. Grandma would take two wooden chairs from the kitchen table, spread them out the width of the kitchen, and place a broomstick across the chairs so that we could swat a balloon back and forth over the wooden “net.” It was always my sister Anne and Ogie against myself. Other activities included a board game called Aggravation, regular walks across the back pasture to what was then Ben Franklin for a toy, and each fall we went to Russell’s Old Trading Post for school shoes.  There was a conveyor belt that went from the back room down to the basement and we used to ride it up and down.  The setting for my short story “Ye Olde Trading Post” in my novel Horseshoe was based on a drawing of the store as it used to be. My grandma and grandpa were fun.  As kids we weren’t afraid to break anything or make a big mess. Their house, and their lives for that matter, were for living.

Russell's Old Trading Post Winamac, Indiana Horseshoe faith God

sketch by John Sterling Lucas

(photo from artwork at Grandma’s house)

My grandma wrote me a lot of letters, and I’d like to use the content of those letters to write about the person she was. The letters have been coming my whole life, and I even received one as recently as this year.  I suppose at the peak of Grandma’s writing, she averaged about one every other month. Later than I would have hoped, I started saving thes letters. One of her latest is on my desk here in Connecticut where I live, and I have a file full of them in my office in New York. When I lay the letters from the past few years out in front of me, I can see the change in grandma’s handwriting, see how it became more painful and exhausting for her to write them for me.  I’d always intended to read from the letters at her funeral, but I was in a hurry to go see her in the last week of her life and I forgot them. It’s probably just as well because one of the lines near the end of most of the letters contained the phrase, “I don’t read them over.” The idea was that the letters had mistakes and if she read it over then she wouldn’t send them.  I don’t remember any mistakes. I think the line is more of an indication of Ogie’s humble way.  Her life was a life of service.  Service to those at the store, service to the people in her community, and service to her daughter Judy and her husband Bill in the time that preceded their deaths.

Olga Russell Aspen Winamac, Indiana William Torgerson death obituary funeral faith God prayer

Grandchild Aspen and Our Grandma

Whether I was nineteen or forty, Ogie’s letters contained a twenty dollar bill and the instructions to “Go eat!” That twenty dollar bill indicates how determined Ogie was to share her blessings. Whether it was money, something in her house, or love, Ogie was determined to give it away. Let’s say my cousin Aspen’s air conditioning broke. Ogie would often chip in to help fix it, and then without my sister Anne or I even knowing what had happened, we would receive a check in the mail for the exact amount that Ogie had given Aspen. I remember being in middle school when I was walking through the mall with my grandma.  We stopped at one of those talking parrots where you say something to the parrott, it records your voice, and says what you said back. I probably laughed and made a passing comment about the toy, and then I received the bird the following Christmas. You had to be careful what you said to my grandma. The first time my wife Megan met Ogie, I warned Megan as we sat in the car outside in Grandma’s driveway, “Don’t tell her you like anything in the house.” Well, we got inside and later Megan complimented Ogie’s paperweight collection. “Which one do you want?” Ogie asked. There was no way my grandma was going to let Megan out of the house without taking the paperweight.  Thank goodness Megan didn’t compliment Ogie on the concrete deer that stood in her shrubbery.

Olga Russell Winamac, Indiana death obituary faith God prayer

Ogie and her Great Grandchildren

Ogie always drew a smiley face somewhere in her letter and sometimes there was a big yellow sticker affixed to the back of the envelope.  It was an ordinary “Have a Nice Day” smiley face, except for that Ogie’s smiley faces had tight curly hair. I took the image to be Ogie’s self portrait, and it’s no accident that it’s a cheerful one. Ogie taught me a very important lesson: she showed me how to be sad about those we love who are gone but at the same time fill the life we have left with joy.  Just about every time I saw my grandma, she talked about how much she missed her daughter Judy and then later her husband Bill. Ogie showed me it was possible in one moment to be full of sadness remembering a loved one who was no longer with her, and then in the next minute say something to me that caused her shoulders to rock with laughter. She taught me a lesson I’ve tried to learn myself and now pass on to my daughters:  it’s often up to us whether or not we are going to go through life cranky and complaining, or whether we’re going to choose to be positive and try to help those around us.  Ogie was incredibly positive, even in the last week of life.

Olga Russell death obituary love God faith Russell's Old Trading Post Winamac, Indiana

a letter from Grandma 3/7/2010

As with my grandfather’s funeral, my mom asked the family to brainstorm adjectives to describe my grandma.  (as mom joked, “…apparently this is what English teachers do.”) Somebody suggested the word “stubborn,” and I know there was some doubt on my mom’s part whether or not such a word should be included at someone’s funeral. I can tell you there is a thread of stubborn that runs at least from my grandma Ogie through her daughters, to their children, and then to Ogie’s great grandchildren. When Ogie’s daughter Judy was a little girl, she said something that hurt my mom’s feelings. Grandpa and my mom were set to head off to work at the store, and Judy was told to sit on a step until she apologized to my mother.  Judy sat on the steps and refused to apologize. My mom and grandpa went to work. When they came home for lunch, Judy was still on the steps and still refusing to apologize. My grandma liked to tell that story.  As for her own stubbornness, when Ogie moved into my parents’ spare bedroom, I was told that as she came in with mom, my dad said something to the effect of, “Welcome to our home.” My grandmother’s response? “Thank you, but I don’t want to be here.” It wasn’t that my grandmother didn’t like my dad or my parents’ house. Right up until the end, Ogie was worried about everyone else, and she hated the idea that she was being a burden. She wasn’t. We were all so thankful to get to spend time visiting with her.

Without fail, Ogie’s letters always had a sentence that told me she was proud of me and that she loved me. When loved ones pass away, I often hear phrases that begin something like this: “If only I’d have known…Or, I wish I could have told her…”  This wasn’t the case with Ogie. My whole life, whether it was in person or through letters, both of my grandparents told me that they were proud of me and that they loved me.  They didn’t say this in passing. They told me in a shoulder grabbing, make full eye-contact, tell-me-twice kind of way, and that’s just one of the many ways that the lives of my Grandpa Bill and my Grandmother Olga will live on. My daughters will know that I am proud of them and that I love them. They have already played volley balloon ball across a broomstick and hunted plastic Easter eggs with treasures inside just like I did when I was a kid.

Bill and Olga Russell Winamac, Indiana Russell's Old Trading Post

My Grandparents: Bill and Olga Russell

My grandma and grandpa didn’t want anything in return for what they gave us. They wanted us to do the same for the family members who would come after us. They were able to help us financially, spiritually, and emotionally, and they hoped that someday we might be in position to do the same for somebody else. I told grandma during the last week of her life that she and grandpa will always be a part of why I do what I do. I will try to stay focused on taking actions which would make them proud. On the day my grandma died, she told me that my girls would grow up fast. She also said about dying, “It’s not hard. It doesn’t hurt.” Grandma did hurt some even thought she wouldn’t admit it, but we were very thankful that she was mostly comfortable. I didn’t see a bit of fear or doubt on Ogie’s part when it came to what was going to happen to her after death. That she passed away with miminal pain after having spent the week with her family, was exactly what she wanted. It was an answer her prayers and ours. My grandmother’s faith was strong and she was anxious to get to Heaven.  Thank the Lord for that.




27 responses to “A Grandson Remembers His Grandma”

  1. What a wonderful tribute to your grandparents, they were just as you described them. It was a pleasure to talk with either of them. Chuck and his little group at Kiwanis still talk of your grandpa.


  2. I remember so many fun Halloween parties that Judy had at her house as we were kids. We passed around things in the dark and were told they were really scary things. We also bobbed for apples. Remembering some good times. Very nice tribute to your Grandmother!


  3. Bill, I enjoyed reading this so much. Your entire family is so special. I’m happy that you were able to be here during the time of her passing.
    Jenise Barnhouse


  4. My grandparents took me many time to Russels and your grandparents as well as the rest of the Russell family were always considerate and nice. Nice may be a plain word, but they were NICE,and it is a wonderful characteristic.

    I enjoyed your story. It made me remember my grandparents and father. Thank you.


    • Thank you so much for taking the time to write me. Yes, it’s easy to say you’re “nice” but a lot harder to be nice all the time. My grandma and grandpa were great examples for me.


  5. Bill – I cannot say I knew your grandparents, but I am thankful of your words that possibly describe many others relationships with their grandparents! I cried reading this thinking of my grandpa & I treasured the relationship you had with yours! They may be gone but always in our hearts!


    • Very cool of you to share. It’s been a great night reading stories about grandma from others and hearing about how people are taken to thoughts of their own loved ones.


  6. You completely captured the essence of your grandma, the Aunt Ogie I knew and loved. She was full of spunk and full of love. What a wonderful tribute to her. XO


  7. Bill, This is such a beautiful tribute to your grandparents. I remember getting Red Goose shoes at Russel’s and getting a golden egg with candy inside with each pair of shoes. Your grandparents were both such wonderful caring people. Your mom and dad are very much like them. Thanks for sharing, it was so thoughtful. Grandma Ogie was a excellent role model for all of us.


    • I just saw the Red Goose that was in the store in grandma’s house. Lots of folks telling me about shopping experiences at the store. Been fun to read!


  8. Bill,
    I really enjoyed reading this journey and tribute to Grandma Ogie. It’s very easy to see based on this entry what a special woman she is (no one is ever gone as long as we have our memories!).


  9. I have never read such a wonderful tribute to one’s grandparents as you did for your Grandma Olga. She was quite a lady always friendly . My dad (Raymond ) and my uncle (Clifford ) worked at Russell’s store My Uncle worked from the time he got out of the service till the time they closed up the store .He delivered groceries for years . Also my brother bagged and carried out groceries . We have known your family for years as long as I have been here . Thank you for your wonderful stories of your Grandma . Some of the things you tell about your Grandma reminds me of how my mom treats her grandchildren.Thanks again . Mary Rans


    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read. It’s good to hear these stories from parts of my grandparents life that I don’t know so much about. 🙂


  10. Bill,
    Your grandma was a special person as were all of the Russell family. Remembering your grandma brought back a lot of memories for me as did you book of short stories. Keep up the good work.


    • Thanks Linda! Everyone’s comments and all the notes I’ve received have certainly given me a lot to think about when it comes to “what to write.” I do have a book done and another almost done so it takes years for people’s ideas and thoughts to actually work through the writing process and eventually be published as books. So glad you have good memories of the Russell family. Me too!


  11. Such a beautiful tribute to your Grandmother and a beautiful and loving woman. She was always a part of my life because of Aunt Bess and Uncle Fred – she was always one of those at Russell’s Store that had the biggest smile, but she wasn’t afraid to “tell it like it is”. Much later in life and when I worked at Pulaski Memorial, every time I say Aunt Olgie she would give me the biggest hug and tell me how much she loved my sisters and me. After Aunt Bess died, she and I would talk about the store and everyone that had worked there and how much fun I had working there when I was young. Loved her very much and she will be missed and rememberd with a smile and wonderful memories.


Leave a Reply to Debby Widup Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: