When I used to think of things like the Dust Bowl, Dr. Pepper, or rock hounding, I did not feel any sense of significance or connection to them, but after interviewing my grandfather, I became a lot more interested in all three. While he is not my biological grandfather, I have grown up knowing Rod Reber as my grandpa, or papa, all my life, and it was fascinating to learn so much more about him. There are a lot of differences between his generation and mine, but in each of his stories and responses to my questions, I found some way of relating them back to my life.
I was born in Redding, California. Redding is a small town. It’s the kind of small town that even if it grows, it maintains that small town feel. I always thought of Redding as being small of mind as well. There is not a lot of diversity in Redding, and there is still a lot of racism. There is also a lot of poverty. Though I didn’t live there long, my grandparents have always been in Redding, and I’ve seen them like a beacon of light in the small town.
My grandmother speaks vividly of life’s adventures, recounting details most lose with age—styles of brothers’ shorts, colors of Easter hats and childhood prayers recited in front of the fireplace. She recalls in similar sentiment the gentleness of her mother’s fingers knitting Christmas presents for 12 children and the clammy hands that clutched her small arms as Axis bombers flew overhead. A childhood lived, in part, under the dining room table and school desks, learning to hide from the worst. For all tragedy of WWII, my grandmother adored the American soldiers who shared chewing gum and oranges with the children of her rural British town. Now, 80 years later and decidedly settled in Northern California, she leaned back on her floral couch and shared stories of youth—of younger years tinged with travel, chance love and unlooked for peace.