31 May 2022

Happy Name Day, Grandma!

Today is the Feast of St Petronilla, the Name Saint of my Grandmother, Nellie Weismiller.

My Grandmother Weismiller was born Pitronella Fredrika Peterson in the village of Ornunga in Västergötland, Sweden, just five months after Alexander Graham Bell 'called' his assistant, saying, 'Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you', the first successful telephonic transmission in history. So, needless to say, she had seen a lot of technological development in her long life!

On 20 July 1969, I was visiting family in Spencer, Iowa. As those of my readers old enough might remember, that was the day that Neil Armstrong took 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind', when he stepped on the surface of Luna. I had been fascinated by the space program and the whole concept of space travel since I first read Jules Verne, so I was following the whole thing very closely.

After my visit, I was hitchhiking back to Topeka, KS, where I lived at the time, and I stopped to see my Grandmother on the way. I arrived on 24 July, the day the astronauts of Apollo 11 returned to Terra. We were watching the recovery on TV when I asked her what she thought of men getting to the moon. She shrugged!

I wasn't overly surprised. Within her lifetime, she had seen the development of telephony, the invention of a practical automobile, the aeroplane, the radio, television,  the beginning of the computer age, and sliced bread! The fact that men had made it to the moon and back was not particularly exciting to her.

However, I had mentioned that Colonel Aldrin was of Swedish descent. About ten minutes after I had asked her opinion, she turned to me and said, 'Johnny, you mean there was a Swede on the moon?' The fact that men, in general, had gone into space was no big deal, but the fact that one of her people had gone to the moon was impressive!

She died four years later in a house fire at the age of 97. We buried her in the plot she had bought in 1916 to bury her husband, and under the gravestone that she had engraved, 'Maximilian Weismiller, 1863-1916, Nellie, His Wife, 1876-....'. We had 1973 engraved on it, and there she rests, gone but never forgotten. Rest in Peace, Grandma!

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