69 Years of Leaning into the Wind

Alison Morris - June 13, 2007

Continuing the "marriage" theme I began earlier in the week, I’d like to share the fact that Tuesday was the 69th wedding anniversary of my grandparents, Olin and Evelyn Morris. My grandfather’s 92nd birthday is two weeks away, my grandmother will turn 91 in August and, yes, you read that right — they’ve been married for a whopping 69 years. Today I found myself thinking about the incredible range of books they must’ve seen and read and loved in that time. Sitting down to type this blog entry, I’m also thinking about how much more accessible reading material (in forms both actual and "virtual") is to all of us today than it was in 1938 when my grandparents tied the knot.

Earlier I called my grandparents at their home in Lincoln, Nebraska to talk to them about these things and ask if there was one book that stood out in their minds as having been important or meaningful to them at some point during their 69 years of marriage (and counting). My grandfather, as would probably be true for most Americans of his generation, named the Bible, citing the importance of church events in their lives throughout the years and their continued volunteer work today with their local Presbyterian church.

My grandmother, a voracious reader, former teacher and one-time school librarian, named Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. She said she read it soon after they were married (it was published in 1936 and won the Pulitzer in 1937). "Oh, I just wept over it and cried over it!" When I asked if my grandfather reminded her, at the time, of Rhett Butler, she laughed and sighed, saying, "I think he did a little bit. Your grandfather is quite poetic, and he can be rather romantic too!"

By observation I would say that the books playing second to the Bible in my grandfather’s life have, without doubt, been the complete works of Louis L’Amour, Max Brand and Zane Grey. I’ve rarely seen him without a yellowed, dog-eared Western within arm’s reach — usually one he’s reading for the umpteenth time. My grandmother’s reading tastes are harder to classify, as she’s devoured books of every conceivable fact and fiction over the years, paying particular attention to the books sent to her by (who else?) her loving grandchildren.

What literary gifts does one send to their nonagenarian grandparents? Because they’ve lived some of the same histories he writes about so eloquently, I’ve made Richard Peck fans out of mine, sending them books like A Long Way from Chicago, The Teacher’s Funeral, and recently a signed copy of Peck’s newest book, On the Wings of Heroes, which my grandfather (a WWII veteran) couldn’t help but appreciate. Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall stroke a note with them when I first sent it, several years ago. And being bird-lovers, they both fell in love with one my non-fiction favorites, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose. It seemed to excite them almost as much as the annual arrival of the Sandhill Cranes.

Of all the books I’ve ever sent them, though, the one my grandmother mentions the most often is one called Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the West edited by Nancy Curtis, Gaydell Collier, and Linda M. Hasselstrom. The beautiful piece by Rose Kremers that begins this anthology also comes to mind for me a lot, specifically in thinking about the hardships my grandparents have managed to endure in their 90+ years — years that weren’t always kind, against a landscape (physical and political) that wasn’t always hospitable. Rose concludes her two rich paragraphs about pain with an image of perseverence. Using the metaphor of roots struggling to find a hold in hardsod, she says it’s "a simple thing after all, to anchor, to stay. It just takes a leaning into the wind."

3 thoughts on “69 Years of Leaning into the Wind

  1. Mitali Perkins

    Blessed, blessed you to have your grandparents still (and extra wonderful that they’re compos mentis, warmhearted, and open-minded.) Many happy wishes to Olin and Evelyn!

  2. Marilyn

    Beautifully written, Alison. Mom and Dad are also featured in the graduation speech I was asked to deliver at Coginchaug’s graduation this Wednesday. We are so lucky–to have them and all their “descendents”!

  3. Nate

    Papa and Nana loved this entry, Alison. I printed it out so Papa could read it aloud to everyone gathered in the living room. As he read, he pointed to the books sitting on the table next to the couch that you mentioned. Papa was also especially tickled that Julie Andrews signed their book, “Love, Julie Andrews Edwards.”


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