Big Ocean Women promote a life culture. We have an opportunity and duty to not only embrace life, but to do all in our power to preserve it. I’ve discovered a satisfying way to do just that. In recent years, I’ve been drawn to know more about my ancestors—not just facts and dates and records, but to know their stories. I’ve seen these relatives take on a life of their own as they are reborn through the accounts of their lives, struggles, and triumphs.
Like the peaches my mother carefully bottled to preserve the harvest through the bleak winter, stories give our beloved family members infinite opportunity and power to influence and inspire us. This preservation culture has been passed down from my mom and aunt/adoptive grandmother, but I wish I would have followed their example sooner and more exactly. They both kept carefully labeled pictures, letters, receipts, and other memorabilia. Their efforts and habits helped me uncover my only photos of my paternal grandfather and my Aunt Anna who died at age 12. My boxes of random photos need to be digitized, labeled, and filed so I can give this same gift of life culture to our posterity.
My Grandma Olive Truman was technically my great aunt. My dad, Donald Truman Hafen, lost both parents when he was two years old, leaving him and three young siblings whom she and my Uncle Tom lovingly raised. I knew Grandma Truman loved us, and I admired her grit, zest for life, and genuine kindness. We often stayed for weeks at a time with her and Grandpa in Washington, Utah, where we made daily pilgrimages to the Boilers warm spring—returning to her house on the hill with lots of red dirt and noise. There were choice memories and stories shared while we were there. I remember grandma telling us she had wanted a pair of high button shoes, but her parents couldn’t afford them. She vowed then that she would marry the first man who asked her. She did just that and persevered for years until it became a powerful partnership. I vividly recall attending their Golden Wedding celebration, practicing for weeks with my family to sing “May You Always.”
Grandpa Tom was handsome and charming but struggled mightily with alcoholism. Another story we knew well was how he finally overcame that addiction. My parents decided to name my oldest brother Dennis Thomas Hafen after him. He said if he was going to have someone carrying his name, he needed to be a man worthy of the honor. From that time on, he completely stopped drinking and spent many years helping others overcome the curse of alcohol. The police learned Tom Truman was a better remedy than jail, so they often called him to pick up men who needed to sober up and get their lives in order.
Grandma’s sister, Eva, not only was a preserver of records and stories, but she was also a creative writer. Her touching biography of my beloved grandma, Addie Olivia Alger Truman, not only brought her to life, but it also included many details about my dad and other family members, the flu epidemic of 1919, and insights about the privations and courage of early pioneers in the barren homesteads of southern Utah. Let me share a few examples from Eva’s book:
Her Pa told her, “When you are puzzled, look up the horizon, to the long view, and her mother taught her, “just pray a little harder.” It is obvious this parental advice was heeded and characterized her life.
Tales of her crawling under the house to gather an egg only to meet a rattlesnake, and how she saved their livestock by shooting a rabid coyote when she and her grandma were home alone.
She and Tom walking five miles, her in high heels, to enjoy a night of dancing, finding the aches and discomfort well worth a delightful evening.
Testifying against a moonshiner who was running illegal businesses and bribing the sheriff to look the other way. Her courage resulted in a conviction and better conditions in their town.
Olive, or Wauvie as she was affectionately known, delivering babies, nursing the sick, preparing the dead for burial, and holding classes in her home to teach many children about God and civil behavior.
Moving to Hawaii with my dad when Tom was working there on a government project. They learned the hula, made friends, and were there on December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
When caring for her mother, she recognized a need for the elderly to receive care. When the store they purchased was repossessed, she got permission to take anything from the stock. Looking ahead, she chose items she would need to start a rest home. Her dream became Truman Rest Home, against long odds, but realized with hard work and relentless persistence.
We who have known her look back over the hard years and see her time and time again lift her head after a bitter defeat or heartbreak (that would have been the end of most people trying) and literally spring back into action. The only difference between Olive and me and you is that she keeps trying because she has faith in people, in herself, and in God, after all the only difference between failure and success is Fear and Faith.
Let’s all of us, especially me, write down stories, label and organize photos, and preserve these vital parts of our family’s life culture—treasures to live forever.