Echoes in the Grand Canyon

Sunlight illuminates the Grand Canyon

In my growing up years I felt keenly the absence of my grampy, my dad’s father, Glen Kuhl, who had died before I was born. This sense of loss may have been reinforced by my mother, who never stopped mourning the loss of this man who had been as a father to her.

Betty on her wedding day, with her dad

In the last years of my dad’s life I collected and preserved Dad’s stories into a memoir. As I worked to gather stories and photos, I came across letters, mostly from Grampy, and one or two from Grannie. We added these letters to the combined stories of Dad’s early years and those of his only sister, Betty.

Betty and Don, in Minnesota, circa 1935

Their early years together, documented in the memoir, became a conversation between the two siblings. Directing this process, I felt such a strong sense of family connection with the family members who populated those pages: Mom and Dad, Aunt Betty and Uncle Ted, and my paternal grandparents, Grannie and Grampy.

On my parent’s wedding day 1949
Dad, a grandpa himself many times over, with me, in his later years.

When Dad’s book was nearly complete, my sister handed me a box containing courtship letters from my dad to my mom.

Mom and Dad

Mom had died nearly ten years prior to the writing of this memoir. I supplied what stories of hers I could recall, wanting to be sur eher voice was included in Dad’s book.

The process of transcribing the numerous family letters, specifically Dad’s and Grampy’s, allowed me to hear their voices through these missives from long ago. As I typed Grampy’s words onto the page, I distinctly heard his voice (which I’d never heard in my life), speaking. His words were playful, filled with humor and fun.

One of Grampy’s letters

Transcribing any document or recording draws the scribe into the world of the writer or storyteller in a manner that is difficult to articulate. Thoughts, feelings, tone of voice, sense of humor, regret and sadness, all come to life as one reads or listens, allowing the voices to channel through one’s fingers onto the page.

Betty’s stories, some of which I’d never heard of before, included many memories of her family when she was growing up. In 1937 my dad, Betty, and their extended family traveled from Minnesota, out to California, and finally cross-country to south Florida, looking for a place where their father, my Grampy, could find a climate that might give him some relief from his debilitating arthritis.

As they drove east from California, Grampy insisted that they make the cross-country trip an adventure by stopping to enjoy sights along the way. I suspect the others in the car were not as enthusiastic as Grampy. What a tedious and hot trip it must have been, undertaken long before modern interstate highways were built. Five people were squeezed into the car, including my great-grandmother, who lived with their family.

Betty told me of stopping at the Grand Canyon on that trip. Grampy insisted his family join him to witness the sunrise over this awe-inspiring landmark. Dad and Betty were teenagers at the time.

1937, Dad, Aunt Betty and Grampy at the rim of the Grand Canyon at dawn

We have a photo of Betty and Grampy wrapped in a large blanket, standing on the edge of the rim of the Grand Canyon. Dad, looking as cool as any fifteen year old can, stood next to his father. Their shadows stretched far behind them as the sun rose over the canyon. Not in the photo, but presumably the one taking the photo, would have been my namesake, Marjorie, Dad’s mom. Betty noted that she and her brother were less than enthusiastic than their father about waking before dawn. Grampy, however, must have used his persuasive powers (he sold insurance for a living when he was able to work) to roust them all out of bed, probably before breakfast. In the photo, Grampy appears to be having a much better time than anyone else….

Dawn, at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon

Shortly after I learned of this story, my husband, Jon, and I had the opportunity to travel to the Grand Canyon for the first time. We had not originally planned to stop there, but once in the general area we realized it was worth the effort to change our plans. Having recently heard the story of my dad and his family visiting the Grand Canyon helped me “connect the dots” as it were, to a missing part of my life.

Sunrise

Once we arrived, I was bound and determined to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, just as my Grampy had done at over sixty years before. The next morning, with no time to brush my hair or even wash my face, I found myself standing in the cold, wiping the sleep from my eyes in the dim light. Waiting for the sun’s first rays to pierce the horizon and fill the grand chasm with light, I had a sense that Grampy was standing right next to me, his arm wrapped around my shoulder, keeping me warm, just as he had stood close to his daughter so many years before.

I could almost hear him say to me, “Ain’t this just grand, little Margie? Ain’t this just grand?” At that moment I knew he was not lost to me. He was not lost at all. He had simply been waiting for me to hear the story….

Marjorie

Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks, Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places.

She has written for numerous local, regional, and national publications over the past 20+ years, has helped many families save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.

8 Comments

Filed under Blog posts--Easy Walks, Blog Posts-Personal Histories

8 responses to “Echoes in the Grand Canyon

  1. Joyce Hollman

    You’ve captured a lovely story!

  2. Mary Chitty

    what a gift to many of us. Mary Glen

  3. jan jorgensen

    This is so lovely.

    It was good to see your mother and father’s faces again… your mother’s face in particular brought back many memories.

    Love always jan

    “Blessed are you who bear the light in unbearable times, who testify to its endurance amid the unendurable, who bear witness to its persistence when everything seems in shadow and grief.”  (Jan Richardson) Jorgensen (she/her) lawnchairsoiree.org/janjorgensen

  4. Ellen

    A sweet, sweet story, Marjorie! What a gift to your family and friends.

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