My First Visit to My Mother’s Family


1970 M.C.I. MC-7 - Greyhound

(Flickr: Creative Commons–dfirecop)


I was about five years old when I had my first bus ride–not on a school bus, but a Greyhound bus. It had big cloth-covered seats. (Our car had vinyl seats.) And it had a bathroom at the back of the bus!

My mother took my two-year-old sister and me to see her parents in northern Wisconsin. We lived in Minnesota at the time (the closest we’d ever live to my mother’s family). And we hadn’t seen them since they’d come to see my newborn sister. My mom took the opportunity and was brave enough to take us on the bus. I have no idea how long it took. I vaguely remember being in the dark, so maybe it took us a day and night. That’s a long time on a bus. We must have had patient traveling companions.

My grandparents lived next to the Wisconsin River. My two vivid memories of their house was the view of the river from a bedroom window (when I was supposed to be napping) and my grandmother’s wringer washing machine.

I had never seen one before. It had the washing machine side, a wringer, and a tub for rinse water. If I remember right, Grandma would take out each clean item of clothing out of the washer, run it through the wringer into the rinse water, then run each rinsed piece through the wringer again before drying them. But I don’t remember if she had a dryer or if she hung the clothes on a line.

My other memory of that trip was visiting my great-grandmother in the nursing home. She was senile. That’s what they called it forty-some years ago. I’d bet she had Alzheimer’s. I don’t remember her talking much, if at all. My mom said she had reverted back to speaking German.

German was Great-Grandma’s first language. She came to America with her parents when she was about three. I wonder if she remembered the boat ride to America? Did she remember how they travelled from the East Coast to Wisconsin? Did she remembered my mother?

Great-Grandma is the only relative for whom I have an immigration date. It’s ironic that as much as I like history, I know very little about my own family history.

Do you remember the first time you met a grandparent or great-grandparent? Were you able to communicate and get to know each other? Did they teach you about the past? Your family history? How did your grandparents do laundry?


  1. jheitman22

    This is a wonderful very early memory to capture in print! Wouldn’t it be fun to go back in time and ask your great-grandmother those questions? Many times we neglect family history until the ones who could tell us what we want to know are gone.

  2. Marcia Strykowski

    I don’t have answers to your questions, (especially about laundry!) but I love delving into family history and clearly remember going on a big Greyhound bus (for about 5 hours) to visit my grandmother. I was in high school and went with my girlfriend. Before that I’d only visited by car with my father driving. While there we visited my grandfather who was in a nursing home. It was a bit frightening to see him so frail, along with mentally-confused people calling out to us. Your post brought up lots of good memories, as well.

    • Deb Watley

      Holiday get-togethers are good places to learn some family history. I learned a little more about my dad and his dad. Your Greyhound trip without an adult was an adventure! I wonder how many kids’ books take place on a bus (other than a school bus)? Yes, it is so hard to see loved ones age.

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