The Great Grands – Mommy’s Paternal Grandparents

I’m lucky to have personal memories of all four of my grandparents. Only two are still alive today so Gavin will never know them all and there are so many stories I want him to hear. I want to make sure that he knows them as I’ve known them. So, inspired by Gmummy’s blog about writing stories from one’s family history, Genwriting, I write this recollection of my memories of Gavin’s great-grandparents.

My sweet Gavin, I write this first of two blog entries to you so you will know the personalities of the people you will only see in pictures or never know as vibrantly as I have. I’ll begin with my paternal grandparents, your grandpa’s parents…

Louis Joseph Ziller, Sr., your grandpa’s dad, was called Pap Pap by his grandchildren. Of my four grandparents, I have the fewest memories of him since he died when I was only eight years old.

Pap Pap’s family are your most recent American immigrants on my side of the family. While the families of my other three grandparents settled in New England and mid-Atlantic colonies before the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Zillers immigrated from Tyrol around the turn on the twentieth century. Today, it is the Trentino region in the Italian Alps, but for centuries before World War II and when the Zillers lived there, it was part of Austria-Hungary. The Zillers apparently disliked being mistaken for Italians and were proud of their Austrian heritage. In fact, there’s a Zillertal Valley in the area that’s fairly well-known!

Pap Pap with his parents (your great-great-grandparents!), Emma and Victor Ziller, who immigrated to the United States as children

Pap Pap served in the Navy aboard a submarine runner as a boatswain’s mate during World War II (oh, boy, do I wish he was still around to tell stories from the war!) and returned home to his family in the Hazleton area of eastern Pennsylvania. Your grandpa is the oldest of Pap Pap’s six children. In the 1950s, the family moved to Neshanic, New Jersey where Pap Pap worked as a coal miner and Grandpa spent his school years. They later moved back to Hazleton and most of your grandpa’s family still live there today.

While living in New Jersey in the 1980s, we occasionally visited Hazleton, usually for Thanksgiving. I recall visiting Pap Pap several times in his apartment but my memories are very limited since I was so young. I remember him being a big (though not overweight) man who didn’t smile much. The large, multi-story brick apartment building where he lived was interesting to me, though, since I hadn’t seen anything like that in suburban New Jersey with all its single-family homes!

This picture of Nana and your Grandpa was sent to Pap Pap while he was overseas during the war.

Hazel was Grandpa’s mom and we all called her Nana. I thought it was funny that Hazel lived in Hazleton! I always remember Nana as fashionably-dressed, wearing many bracelets and accessories. I always remember Nana’s voice and Pennsylvania accent – somewhat of a cross between New York and Canadian accents. I smile right now thinking about the way she said certain words like “don’t” (dohn’t) and Grandpa’s sister Sandy’s name (Sahndy).

Nana never hid her desire for her grandchildren to have their own children. So, I’m sure she would be thrilled to know you, Gavin! Like your great-grandma Sally on your dad’s side, Nana collected stuff animals and lined them up on the top of her living room sofa. They were everywhere in her apartment. I know you would have loved visiting her!

Aunt Kristen and me with Nana in 2000

Nana visited us in Florida several times and enjoyed sitting at the table on our lanai chatting up a storm. During our annual summer trips along the eastern seaboard, we usually stopped by Hazleton for a day so we saw her at least once every year or two. We also spoke to Nana on the phone when Grandpa called every month. I never really knew her too well so I usually didn’t know what to say, but Nana always told us she loved us. She was always full of love. Nana passed away in 2003 not long after I met your father.

I have lots of stories about your GGma and GGpa to share next…


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