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Moments of longing
Helen White Gibbons

I’ve written about my family here before, mostly about my mom’s side of the family because I’ve lived near them all my life. But last fall I got to finally visit my dad’s family in Port Huron, Michigan. And I got to know more about my other grandmother, Helen White Gibbons.

I always wished I knew my grandmother Gibbons; she died six years before I was born.  I have several pictures of her when she was young. One is before my dad was born. She is sitting straight, wearing a blue dress. Her hair cut short flapper style, she looked so regal, like royalty.

This was around the time she got back from a trip. Oh, but this wasn’t any trip, she traveled with her rich aunt on a cruise. A cruise! Just about when the depression was in full swing, she went on a cruise. And it wasn’t any ordinary cruise, she hobnobbed with rich and famous people. Although there is a debate of whom she hung out with. Case in point, a conversation with my dad and Aunt Kathy about the cruise when we were looking at pictures:

Dad: Now that’s your grandmother when she was on the cruise with your great aunt.
Me: And she hung out with Barbara Hutton, right?
Dad: That’s right!
Aunt Kathy: Oh it wasn’t Barbara Hutton! Mother sat with Doris Duke!
Dad: It wasn’t Doris Duke! It was Barbara Hutton!

I debated saying “Maybe it was Brenda Frazier” but decided against it because Brenda was around nine at the time, and also it would confuse everyone.

Another picture of her I have is here by a car. She’s wearing a gray dress, looking at the camera like a model.  I remember looking at her and I thought whoa, I can’t believe I’m related to her. There are times when I wish I could talk to her, about that cruise, about Dad when he was a kid. Like with my other grandmother, I always wonder how my life would’ve been different if they were both in my life. I know they would’ve gotten along; maybe they could’ve done yoga or maybe gone to the park pool.

Two days before we were supposed to leave, Aunt Kathy drove us to the cemetery. For the first time, I was going to see my grandparents’ grave. It was right by a curb, so Aunt Kathy pulled up. Dad and I got out, then I saw it, my last name, on the grave.

I felt dizzy all of a sudden. Dad propped me up. “Hey, it’s okay,” he said as we stood there. I remembered a scene in one of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice books when Alice is looking at pictures of her late mother Marie. Suddenly a lump comes up in her throat, and she remembers something her father told her: “It’s called longing, Al. It’s called missing someone.”  At that moment, I was so full of longing for the grandparents I never met. I looked at Dad, and he put his hand on my shoulder. We stood there for a while full of longing.

2 Comment count
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Beautifully done.

Thanks for sharing these private longing moments with us.

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thanks Sue!

I shared this with my aunt and she loved it, then she said "I can't remember if it was a cruise or not..."


Jennifer Gibbons, Red Room