A Lumberjack’s Daughter

Great_grandpa_logs

My Great-Grandfather with some of the logs he cut in the UP.

Today I’d like to tell you about my Grandmother.  She had a fascinating life, growing up in the North woods of Michigan.   Her father was a lumberjack, and she spent most of her childhood moving from camp to camp. My Grandma wrote a book about her life, and I would like to give you a few excepts from that:

“The one-room shacks we lived in would make President Abe Lincoln’s Kentucky log cabin look luxurious.  The floor space measured about 100 or 150 square feet.  Usually there was one small window.  The slanted roofs and outside walls were usually covered with tar paper.  The roofs frequently leaked.  We caught the drips in pails or cooking utensils…. The floorboards had gaps so wide that we had to be careful not to drop small objects on the floor or they would be gone forever.

My Great-Grandmother in front of one of the homes they lived in.

My Great-Grandmother in front of one of the homes they lived in.

We coped with the bitter winters in Michigan’s UP by tacking cardboard between the wall studs.  We pasted magazine, catalogue, and newspaper pages to the cardboard and chinked up the cracks.  These pages offered better decor than just plain bare walls. We could read the writing on the wall.  Mama loved the pictures of flowers from seed catalogues.  I loved the Sunday newspaper comic strips.  When we got tired of the writing on the wall, we could just add more of the same type of insulation.  Papa banked up the outside walls by building retaining walls to hold dirt.  This added insulation and kept the wind out.  The dirt came up to the height of the window.  We didn’t worry about termites, we never stayed in these shacks long enough to see any damage. ”

In her book, my Grandma describes her life growing up – the games they played, the food they ate, the work they did.  She had a very sporadic education, since they weren’t always close enough to a school.  In one section, she writes about the school bus that they took at one point:

 

The firls from the Akrigg School, near Pickford, MI.  My grandma is second from the right.

The firls from the Akrigg School, near Pickford, MI. My grandma is second from the right.

“After one week of school in the Pickford area, I attended the Akrigg School, about four miles from camp. The men in camp made a school bus out of some kind of wooden camper. It had runners for the snow instead of wheels and a wood burning stove with a stovepipe. A horse pulled it. We went to school through the woods on an old logging trail. It creaked as it moved along. It went so slowly I could jump out the back door of the vehicle and run along behind it.”

At about 12 years old, my Grandma left her parents and went to live with more well-to-do families where she worked doing household chores.  (Her sisters had done the same thing at ages 9 and 11)  One family she really loved, and another she didn’t, feeling very much like an outcast.  She eventually ended up in Ann Arbor where she worked various jobs, and got married.  She had more adventures but I really don’t have room for all that in my blog.   She had four children in total, and my mother was the youngest.

grandma_grandpa

My Grandma and Grandpa during their retirement in Florida.

My Grandmother was very smart about money, and was very good at pinching pennies.  They made ends meet and eventually were able to invest in renting/buying/selling houses in Ann Arbor during the housing boom of the 50’s and 60’s.  They retired in a comfortable home and often spent their winters in Florida.

My Grandma’s book has been added to the curriculum in Michigan schools for the unit on State history, since she represents such a forgotten part of Michigan life.  (One which was hardly documented)  You can find it in quite a few libraries across the state, or you can buy it online here if you are interested.

My Grandmother lived a long and full life, but she unfortunately passed away on September 9th, at 92 years old.  She was not in the best of health, but she still had a sound mind and we weren’t really expecting her to pass away just yet.  I was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my family in Ann Arbor and got to see her for about a week before she got sick, and she also got to meet Olivia.   I loved my grandma very much, and so I have written a short tribute to her:

————————————

Grandma.  What comes to mind when I think of you?  Old and frail, with skin like paper… but that was only near the end.  And at 92 years old, I think you have the right to be a bit frail.  But you were also strong and courageous.  Frugal; shaped by the tough times you lived through.  Sharp as a tack.  Your health may have declined, but not your mind.  At 92 you were still a card shark – I never met anyone who could beat you – not even my dad who has a PhD.

My grandma watching after us kids in the mid-80's

My grandma watching after us kids in the mid-80’s

I think about the times we spent overnight at your house; arguing over the blanket with my sister while we were supposed to be going to sleep.  I remember butter pecan ice cream, oatmeal with raisins and honey, and learning how to “save the best for last”.  I remember flooding your backyard with water so we could go ice skating there.  I remember moving all your plants around the living room to pretend I was in a jungle.  I remember rolling around on the floor as a kid and you telling me how agile I was.   I remember going to garage sales with you on Saturday mornings- I learned so much about the value of things from that!  I remember learning how to clean, how to turn a compost pile, how to make new plants grow from clippings, how to play Euchre – which, by the way, went on to become my favorite card game of all time.  I remember painting your garage floor.

Grandma, I learned so much from you, and I love you – I will always miss you!  But I am also glad that now you can finally join Grandpa in Heaven.  Now that I am married myself, I cannot imagine being separated from my husband for so long.  So in a way, while sad for us, it really is a joyous occasion.  Thank you for bringing so much to my life, and all of our lives.  May you find peace with God.

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14 Responses to “A Lumberjack’s Daughter”


  1. 1 Shana December 7, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    This brought a tear to my eye. What a wonderful tribute! My family is from Detroit (Southfield is where I grew up) so this definitely hit home. Also, I think Euchre only exists in MIchigan!

    • 2 christiana83 December 7, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      Thanks Shana, I’m glad you liked it! I’ve been to Southfield; only briefly though. I think Euchre is in a few other states, too, like Melissa (Motherhoodisanart) commented that they have it in Wisconsin, too. But honestly, EVERYONE in Michigan knows that game – I used to play it with some friends every Friday and Saturday night during college, and we would play it for like 12 hours straight!

  2. 3 Dad December 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    That picture was taken in the backyard of 2504 Sequoia Parkway; pictured (L-R) are Grandma Arndt, Sarah, Mark, and Christiana. From Sarah’s size this picture was taken in during the summer of 1987.

    And yes, Grandma always perked up when playing cards … she was very sharp with the cards!

  3. 4 Sarah December 7, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Nice post christiana! I didnt know grandmas book was added to the curriculum! Very cool. And i dont remember fighting over blankets…. But i wouldnt be surprised! :p

    • 5 christiana83 December 7, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      Thanks! Mom told me about it being added to the curriculum, I think 3rd grade or something like that, for the unit on state history. I’m not sure if it was only one school district, or the whole state, though.
      I remember fighting over the blankets as if it were yesterday! LOL I think I was the one who stole them (not intentionally, though of course!)

  4. 6 motherhoodisanart December 7, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    What a great post Christiana! What a remarkable lady your grandma was! My grandpa owned a tavern in southwest Wisconsin and they held Euchre tournaments there a couple times a week. He taught every one of his grand kids how to play!

    • 7 christiana83 December 7, 2012 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks, Melissa! She had such an interesting life; there is so much more I could have written, but it was way too much for a blog. I had to spend several weeks working on this post, though, to get it just right. That’s cool that your grandpa held Euchre tournaments! It is SUCH a fun game! Too bad no one here in Germany knows it 😦 I’ve thought about teaching some people just so I can play it again.

  5. 8 melaniecarbine December 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    I remember your grandmother. That’s wonderful that she recorded her story and it’s now state history. Your memories of her are beautiful.

  6. 10 DellaD December 8, 2012 at 12:17 am

    Mom started another book called “I’d rather sit on an Orange Crate than go in debt for furniture”…. It is about later in like, and philosophy of living, managing money etc.. This was not published, but I may work on making it publishable in my spare time.

  7. 11 Sarah December 8, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Id like to read that mom

  8. 13 mtetar December 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Great story, and memory to last a Life Time. Thank you for sharing. Regards, Mtetar


  1. 1 Michigan « Insert Cheesy Title Here Trackback on December 8, 2012 at 9:57 pm

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