September 28, 2007

Elsie Soby Asala

It's a week for birthdays and memories. Today would have been my Grandmother Elsie's 89th birthday. We all called her Gramsy. She was quite the woman. She was one of three children born to Finnish parents, and my father's mother. She graduated from Lake View High School at 4015 Ashland, and almost immediately married my Grandpa Edwin. She was only 17.

This photo of her was taken at the Century of Progress Chicago World's Fair in 1934. She was standing in a cutout made to look like fan dancer Sally Rand (see 2nd image). Ms. Rand was quite the sensation of her day, dancing nude (or appearing to) with only her two fans to cover her. When my grandmother came home with this souvenir photo, she was nearly whupped by her own mother, who thought she really had bared her behind at the fair.

Gramsy had three children, my father being the youngest, and when my grandfather died in 1953 (I think it was), she became the sole provider for the family. The family lived in various apartments in and around Andersonville. I don't think any of them are still standing.

Eventually, when her children moved out to the suburbs with their own children, Elsie followed, getting an apartment in Wheaton, right on the train line, and continuing to commute to Chicago for her job. She was a key punch operator.

Gramsy died when I was very young, still in junior high. My favorite memories of her are when I got to stay overnight at her apartment by myself. There are eight of us grandchildren, and she always made the effort to spend one-on-one time with us. I have a pair of antique elephant knickknack that belonged to her, which I keep on top of one of my antique radios, and a turquoise ring. In every memory I have of her, her hands were covered in these large rings. Each of her granddaughters received one after her death.

I've always admired Gramsy's strength to be able to raise three young children on her own. She never remarried. She was a fun, slightly crazy, generous, warm person, who loved all of us. I only wish that she could have lived long enough for me to get to know her as an adult. The memories I have are a child's memories, and when she passed away, a great deal of family history was lost with her.


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