“Alaskan Sunrise” A Gift for My Family

This week I am taking a break from writing about gamblers and max bets.  Instead, I am sharing with you the eulogy I wrote for my grandparents memorial.  I have been hard at work creating a book of photographs and journals my grandmother kept from the 1940s mostly in Alaska where she was from.  And in creating this I keep thinking how much they taught me.  From the importance of analytics to not speaking ill of anyone, they were and remain a blessing in my life.

Why in a business setting would I feel the need to share this?  Why share the love story which was my grandparents’ lives? 

Each of us is more than our jobs, and our successes often times come from what we learn and what we do outside of our careers.  I know that without the lessons my elders taught me I would be nowhere near as successful as I am today.  My grandparents taught me that work is a blessing, and having a purpose is a driver.  They were lifetime entrepreneurs that never stopped doing the things they loved both in their personal lives and professional lives.  They were the example set for my lifetime goals.

Without further ado here it is:

I am speaking today to share the legend of our family.  “Legend,” you say, “legend is a strong word,” but I assure you it fits.  A legend is a story passed down of great deeds and amazing acts, deeds and acts so out of the ordinary as to seem almost unbelievable.  I tell this legend because I heard it from those who lived it, but they are gone now, and they are not here to tell their tale, so it is left to us, those that heard it from them to pass it on to those not lucky enough to see the passion in their eyes as they talked about love.

Now, I am not talking about war stories though the story starts with a war, my grandfather fought a war, but it is not something he discussed,

I respect his choice to focus on better things.   I am not talking about adventure in the normal sense (though adventure they often did), unless you, like me (raised in a family based on love), think of adventure as a romance that spanned almost seventy years, five children, ten directly descended grandchildren, a still growing number of great-grandchildren, and all the children and grandchildren they claimed as their own over the long years of their love affair.  I fear to attempt to name them all for fear that my grandmother would be wroth if I missed even one.  I am talking about the legend of a beauty so great a man threw his life at her feet then dedicated that life to her and her to him.

 

I am talking about Stanley Horlacher and Josephine Greene who met in Nome, Alaska in 1946.  It started when Stan went crab hunting with his good friend Charlie.  Stan and Charlie were soldiers together in the Army and they were stationed in Nome Alaska where Charlie’s sister Josephine managed the Army’s

laundry and dry cleaning service.  By coincidence (or more likely as the story goes, the machinations of Charlie) Josephine met them for the day.  My grandfather told me from the moment he first spotted my grandmother in her white fur coat standing by the snow he knew he was lost to her.  Like all true legends they both had families and lives before they met, and they both had stories of being young, but I hardly ever heard the other stories until later in their life.

Listening to them both talk about the past it was as if life started there in Nome, started with that first meeting.  Until my grandparents were in their eighties I hardly heard stories of their childhood beyond a few basics, what I heard over and over, in a thousand different renditions was the story of how they met on that day when Charlie introduced them, and how their love formed after it.

 

Stan was the assistant to Captain Burell which gave him leeway in both duties and privileges.  All of which he immediately began putting to use in courting his love interest.  First, he took over the job of driving the bus that brought the civilians onto the base, knowing that it would give him the chance to see Josephine at least twice a day.  He always kept the front seat clear so she could set by him and they could talk on the drive.

He also had access to his boss’s jeep, which allowed him to drive her on dates into the wilds around Nome.  In a pattern he would repeat for the rest of his life, he dedicated his every resource in life to ensuring Josephine’s happiness.  Can you imagine, dedicating an entire life to the happiness of another person, working each day to ensure their wants were met?  Not just making the commitment but then working for almost 70 years to ensure the duty was kept.

They married in 1947 and lived in a small 3 room cabin on the outskirts of Nome for a year until Josephine became pregnant and she decided they should move to Eastern Washington and learn to be farmers.  My Grandmother had seen her first car in Nome, and she saw her first elevator and escalator on the trip to their new home.  They lived with Stan’s parents for several years before getting their own place.  Stan’s father, brothers, and cousin loved my grandmother nearly as much as he did, but then how could they not love such a beauty.

His mother, on the other hand, attempted to annul the marriage twice to my knowledge in the first year.  You could say the relationship there was strained.  But Josephine loved Stanley and honoring his elders was important to her, even when it was difficult.

I can still remember the gleam in my grandmother’s eye when she told me the story of the first time she made pie, it was the first dish from their newly adopted culture she really got right the first time she attempted it she told me, and the look in her mother-in-laws face when everyone exclaimed how great that first pie was… how sweet it must have been.  It became a source of pride for her the quality of her pies and her cooking.  Pie was the first dish I made for her myself.  And no matter what I cooked for her, I always included a slice of homemade pie, because it would make her smile, and remind me of how her eyes sparkled when she had told that story.  One of the first acts of friendship shown her was a neighbor who helped her learn to garden, and my grandmother took pride in her ability there as well.

I can honestly say I never heard my grandparents speak ill of anyone to me.  I saw them angry or disappointed, but I never heard them verbalize negativity.  The closest my grandfather ever came in my presence was to say, “Awe they just have their own way.”  Which I took him to mean leave them alone, and hope they leave you alone.  And though my grandmother had a multitude of looks I knew meant someone was wrong, the closest and only time I heard her speak it aloud was in regards to a letter.

One of Stan’s cousins or family members had written her a letter, and it sat unopened on her table.  I asked her about it and she said (please note this is my memory and my grandmother took way fewer words to say anything I have to say, so bear in mind she probably said it in much shorter terms), “Oh that I do not have time for that.”

I pushed about it, and finally, she said, “That is so and so, I use to read her letters, but they are all about who is in trouble, who died, what hurts, and how she or others are sick.  I am 80 years old I know plenty of people in trouble, plenty who have died and have my own hurts and sickness.  I guess I just do not have time to read about it.  Maybe if just once she mentioned babies being born, or the good things happening to people I’d have the time, but she doesn’t, and I don’t.”  It was one of the longest things my grandmother ever said to me in one sitting and it has stayed with me.

My grandparents lived in several towns of Eastern Washington before settling in Latah where they continued to farm and opened StanJo Dairy Farm, which they ran successfully for many years.  They had several business ventures throughout their lives, but the Dairy Farm and Farming were constant until they retired and opened StanJo Upholstery.  Yes, you heard that correctly for their retirement they opened a brand new business venture which they ran for many more years and had people driving from Spokane to Latah for the quality work they did.

Throughout their lives they fished and gathered berries, Josephine painted, and they RVed.  They drove their RV back to Alaska for visits and made yearly pilgrimages to Mexico with friends.  After the service, Stan was not big on flying, but they both loved to travel, and the RV was their perfect vacation getaway.

I stayed with both of my grandparents in their last weeks, and I was honored and blessed to do so.  My grandmother taught me one last valuable lesson before leaving us.  While we were moving her to the half-way house I had a call from work.  The move was going well, and the rest of my family was with her so I took the call and went into work for a time.  After work, I came back and the first thing my grandmother asked when I sat down was, “where were you.”  I explained that I had a call from work and some school work to get done, but I had known she was in good hands.  She looked at me for several minutes and then said, “no Dandan, where were you.  I wanted you here, and you were not here.”  I understood, and I apologized, she was teaching me that it did not matter what other people did, it did not matter what else I had, what mattered was that I was there, that I had a duty to my family, to my grandmother, and I had failed in it.  I promised myself not to fail my family like that again.

Before passing my grandfather spent several years with dementia, and it was often he forgot many things about his life, but any time you ever asked about his wife, he would smile, and answer, “She is an amazing woman,” and tell you a tale of why she was amazing, his smile and his pride where always worth the question.  Even as the stories of his siblings and eventually his kids and grandkids grew dimmer and harder to recall, his wife was always in his thoughts, the one constant in his battle to hold on to what was important.  It was hard when he would forget me, but I took comfort that he was saving that room for memories of his wife, and I will never begrudge him that, for through it he was teaching me a deep message about how love should be.

I can remember still, close to his passing one of his nurses came into the room as my cousins and I sat there and asked us about, “Stan’s Wife.”  The questions about my grandmother almost seemed as if she was in awe of her.  A woman she had never met but had obviously heard so much about and the staff strained like children as we told them the legends of my family, the legends of a love that will last until we, their descendants leave this earth.

 

I hope you have enjoyed the words and the pictures, some weeks you just need to share from the heart in order to remember where you have come from and the important parts of life. 

4 thoughts on ““Alaskan Sunrise” A Gift for My Family

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