Category Archives: family

The Great Grands – Mommy’s Maternal Grandparents

Continuing yesterday’s blog entry about memories of my grandparents, I have many more stories to share about my maternal grandparents since we have lived in the same town for over 20 years, except for the recent two-year gap when they escaped Florida to North Carolina before us! Again, I write this to Gavin…

GGma and GGpa in 2005

Gmummy’s mom is Marian. I know you’ll have many of your own memories of her – I always say she’s going to live to be a hundred! She’s 84 years old but still very active with an incredibly sharp mind. She really hasn’t changed much over the past twenty years. The Gma I began to know very well when we moved to Florida in 1988 is pretty much the same Gma I know today! She was always “Grandma” to your Aunt Kristen and me until we moved to Florida and saw our maternal grandparents so often. It didn’t take us long to give them the shorter nicknames Gma and Gpa so that’s why they’re GGma and GGpa to you!

GGma is an only child, born in Princeton, New Jersey just like your Gmummy and Mommy. Her parents (Herb and Clara Rorer) owned Rorer’s Hardware Store in Hopewell, New Jersey and her paternal grandfather (F.C.W. Rorer) was a funeral director so she always has interesting stories related to family businesses.

Gma - grade school

Young GGma in grade school

GGma is an excellent cook and baker. Her mashed potatoes and gravy are practically their own food group. When we all lived in Florida, she always had a tin of classic homemade Toll House chocolate chip cookies waiting on the table when we visited and, during orange season, she usually had an orange cake on hand. I have both of those recipes so you’ll be able to experience them yourself (you already love Toll House cookies!), but I just don’t have the Gma magic to even come close to her potatoes and gravy!

Your mama definitely got her yearning for traveling from GGma. GGma has traveled the world extensively and has visited all fifty states. She always traveled with tour groups during the 1980s and 1990s after she retired, usually taking at least one trip overseas each year while homebody GGpa stayed in Florida. She brought us back souvenirs from places like Norway, Morocco, Peru, Egypt, Denmark, … too many places to even remember!

You and GGma – June, 2008

GGma is very competitive and loves to play games. For years in Florida, she played bridge almost every day with groups of friends. Our visits frequently involve sitting around the table chatting while playing a game. Even today at 84 years old, GGma quickly learns (and wins!) new games the first time she plays them. Our current favorites are Quiddler and Bananagrams. Her mind is as sharp as a tack and she never forgets anything!

GGma is a master cross-stitcher. We have several of her projects on the walls of our house and she stitched one for you when you were born. She used to crochet prolifically as well. I always had a blankie when I was young and she made them all. When one was too ragged, she’d crochet me another. I’m not ashamed to say I slept with GGma-made blankets until I married your father so you won’t be reprimanded by me if you choose to sleep with your lovey well into your twenties! GGma gave me the last blanket just a few years ago and, not needing it at the time, I stored it away to use if I ever had children. We now tuck you into bed every night beneath that blanket.

Gpa - high school

GGpa in high school

GGpa’s name is Gerald Matthews and that’s what his sisters still call him, Gerald, although his friends and your GGma call him Gerry. He’s the reason your middle name is Matthew. GGpa grew up on a farm in the rural south-central Pennsylvania town of Walnut Bottom where he was the oldest child in the family with three sisters. He was of military age during World War II but avoided the draft because of his responsibilities on the farm. I’ve always loved hearing his stories about growing up on the farm and wish he’d tell more, but those times aren’t the fondest in his memory and he’s more proud of the fact that he left farm life to became a successful business owner.

In his early twenties, GGpa left Pennsylvania for New Jersey where he found a job working for Walker-Gordon, a milk processing plant in Plainsboro. He tells many stories about working the rotolactor (a large carousel that milked dozens of cows at once) and can tell you more about milk pasteurization and homogenization than you’d ever care to know!

You and Mommy admiring a painting of the Matthews farm at the GG’s home

While in his late twenties, he met your GGma and after they married, GGpa became manager and ultimately the owner of his father-in-law’s hardware store. Together, they managed the store until the year I was born. The store was liquidated and the building has not been used to sell hardware since. Your Gmummy worked at the store for years and GGpa often tells stories about “the store.” In fact, everyone likes to mention the story of how GGpa fired his own daughter just a week before Gmummy gave birth to me!

When I was one month old, your great-grandparents retired and moved to southwest Florida. Only in their fifties, they lived an idyllic retired golfing life for over twenty years. They lived in a house on the golf course and, despite moving to several other homes and condos since then, that house on SE 7th Avenue in Cape Coral, Florida will always hold the most memories for me and will always be “their house.” While still living in New Jersey, we vacationed at their home every Easter and had fun times swimming in their pool, walking on the golf course cart paths in the evening, and sampling GGma’s delicious cooking.

Your great-grandparents golfed almost every day and GGpa often took a lead role planning golf groups and tournaments. While your GGma is a social butterfly, GGpa is the source of introvertedness in the family so working behind-the-scenes suited him just fine! The GGs had several large orange trees in their back yard and it seemed like GGpa was picking oranges every day! He still climbed the trees to pick the hard-to-reach oranges well into his 70s. We always had fresh orange juice during orange season when we lived in Florida.

Gs - wedding

GGma and GGpa on their wedding day – November 9, 1952

It was great having grandparents close by while your Aunt Kristen and I were growing up in Florida. The GGs came to all of our piano recitals and we sat with them in church every Sunday morning. I feel lucky to have known my grandparents so well, spend so much quality time with them, and have so many memories.

GGpa’s mobility has declined sharply in recent years. He’s always walked steady but a little slow for as long as I can remember, but he mainly uses a wheelchair now. He is quite healthy, though, so much so that when he broke his ankle five years ago, the hospital staff simply didn’t believe GGma when they asked what medications he was on and she told them he took none! Aside from once taking glaucoma medication, he doesn’t take anything now when most men his age are on all sorts of blood pressure, heart, and other medications. He may be physically slow now, but that’s not a reflection on his internal health.

Christmas 15

You and GGpa – Christmas 2008

With GGpa’s physical health suffering and having tired of the active hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 when we hunkered down for a half dozen storms, GGma and GGpa moved to North Carolina in 2006 several years after Aunt Kristen started the family migration (your grandparents moved in 2007 and then we did one year later). We try to visit them several times a month but you’re such a wild and active little guy that it’s hard to visit for long! They love seeing you, though, and GGma comments every time how your looks have changed and you’ve grown since she last saw you. You’re the first boy in the family since your great-uncle Roy (GGma and GGpa’s son, and Gmummy’s brother) and she always comments on similaries between the two of you. You are loved very much by your great grandparents!

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…