Granddaughter Finds a Grandmother

Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Two months ago, Shellie Larson was afraid she was going to lose her 71-year-old grandmother because of a failing pacemaker.

Instead, she has found her, for what in essence is the very first time.

The family has a saying about such matters, says Larson's mother, Gayle Anderson of Orange. It is an oft-repeated phrase that dates back at least as far as the time Larson's great-grandmother was homesteading on the North Dakota plains:

"There is nothing so bad that something good doesn't come out of it."

But until now, the 21-year-old Larson never quite felt its full impact.

Last week in Family Life, we featured a San Clemente family who responded to the illness of a back-East grandmother by custom-building a new house with accommodations for three generations.

But what can you do if Grandma needs help and she can't--or won't--move in with you? For Larson, the answer was as simple as Mohammed and the mountain: If Grandma won't come to the family, the family--part of it, anyway--must go to Grandma.

And Grandma isn't the only one who benefits when that happens, Larson says. She says what she has gained just in the past few weeks has made the trip worth it, even if it meant passing up opportunities, saying goodby to friends, packing up the belongings she had planned to take with her to the University of Southern California and hauling it instead to Minot (brrrrrr!), N.D.

Quite a change for anybody, but especially Orange County born-and-raised Larson, to whom snow means nothing more than "a trip to Big Bear."

"It really is different here (in Minot)," Larson says. "We take so much for granted in California. It's like, 40 degrees here today."

Except for a few three- or four-day trips, Larson had never been to the area where her mother grew up. She enjoyed those visits, as well as the trips her grandparents made to California now and then. Still, she and her grandparents were virtual strangers to each other.

"My mom would always tell me stories about her grandmother, and how she used to go by her house on the way home from school and there would be cookies waiting for her," Larson says. "I always really missed that. I felt like I never really had a grandmother."

But now--at last--the cycle is repeating itself. "Now I go by my grandmother's house after school, and she has cookies waiting for me ," Larson says.

Although Larson does chores and runs errands for her grandparents, she says she is getting much more than she gives in their newly found relationship.

"My grandmother and her sister tell me stories about when my mom was little, or when they were younger, stories I probably never would have heard if I hadn't come here. And I'm getting a real sense of my family heritage. It feels so good."

It all started about a year ago, Anderson says, when her mother, Gladys Kantrude, was checking out of the hospital after being treated for an unrelated ailment and "her heart just stopped. They were able to revive her and put in a pacemaker, and I flew back there to be with her for a few weeks."

Anderson's father, George Kantrude, also suffers from heart problems as well as emphysema, so he was unable to take full responsibility for his wife's needs.

After Kantrude's condition stabilized, Anderson came home. "They had told us that about 10% of the people will reject their pacemakers," Anderson says. "And that's what happened. She started having fainting spells in August, and they had to give her another pacemaker."

So once again, Anderson got ready to rush to North Dakota, leaving her husband, Robert, her work and busy social life behind for as long as she was needed there. "I just felt so helpless being so far away," she says. "But I have a husband and responsibilities here; I couldn't be on the plane every week. I really didn't know what I was going to do."

Before she finished packing, however, Larson spoke up.

"Isn't there a university in Minot?" she asked.

"Yes, but it doesn't compare to USC," Anderson answered, a bit puzzled at first. After two years at Loyola Marymount, Larson was about to begin her junior year at USC.

Abruptly, Larson announced that she would go to Minot and the University of North Dakota for a year instead.

"I was really astounded," Anderson says. "Had I suggested it, I don't think she would have considered such a thing. But it was her own idea."

"I figured USC would always be there for me," Larson says. "But suddenly I knew my grandmother wasn't always going to be there. Down the years I was able to imagine that something could happen to (my grandparents), but now it seemed real. I still had the chance to get to know them, so I decided to take it."

When Kantrude first heard that Larson would be coming to live near her, "she didn't believe it," Anderson says. "Then she called back, and she was really choked up. She was so excited. A week after her surgery, she was circling ads for apartments and asking her brother to drive by and look at them."

Larson says some of her friends were confused when they heard she was leaving and wondered if she was being banished to the hinterlands against her will. "They were like, 'OK, Shellie, what did you do?' But when they realized it was something I wanted, they understood."

The worst part, Larson says, is being away from her mother. "We've always been really close. And we've never been away from each other this long, ever. But I'm getting a different sense of what family means by being here."

Meanwhile, Larson is eagerly awaiting that first snowfall. "My grandpa's telling me how to winterize my car," she says.

Every child a champion?

Who could be more proud than the parent of an Olympian? Many parents encourage their children to excel at sports. Some go far beyond that, pushing youngsters so much that what was once fun becomes grueling work. How far should a parent go to prod a young athlete? And how much of your own life should you set aside to assist in your child's sports endeavors? Tell us where sports fit in your family's priorities.

Auntie (and uncle) matters

For Dorothy, it was Auntie Em. What about you? Do you have a favorite aunt or uncle? Tell us about her or him. And if you are an aunt or uncle, tell us about your special relationship with your nieces and nephews--whether or not you have children of your own.

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