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  • Writer's pictureMike Gratland

What I learned in Oregon by Mike Gratland 2.20.20 | Personal Life Lessons

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

I just wanted to share a little about my upbringing and give a little insight to my world view and ethics. And some life lessons learned along the way.

My Grandmother Lydia was born in Ukraine and went to nursing school in Germany.

Mike Gratland Grandparents life lessons
My Grandparents "Joe and Lydia"

My Grandpa Joe was a Polish soldier in the artillery division. When captured by the German army they placed him in a POW camp. He managed to escape by digging under a fence with his bare hands. When they caught him, they put him back into the POW camp.

He desperately wanted to go home to see his parents again. When he escaped the third time he made it all the way across the street from his parents home. He was hiding in the home of people he grew up with, waiting for the darkness of nightfall, to cross the street. "They turned him in!" He never did see his parents and never saw them again. When they arrested him this time he was declared a “problem prisoner” and placed in Dachau Concentration Camp.

Life lessons from Mike Gratland's grandparents
Joe and Lydia Kalwasinski and sister Tamara

He said "From the moment you walk into that place, it is made very clear, you only get food in exchange for work. So he determined that he was going to work! Whatever it took. He was determined to survive. He eventually worked his way out of there to the position of a shoeshiner at the German Air Force Base. It was when the American and British planes dropped bombs on the base, my grandfather, Joe, was injured. They then transported him to the closet hospital.

My grandmother, Lydia, was assigned to be Joe’s nurse as they spoke a similar language (Polish and Ukrainan). It wasn’t love at first sight. She didn’t like him much and he hated needles. But he was handsome and she agreed to go on a date. The rest is history, they married in Germany and my mom was born shortly after WW2 in Frankfurt Am Main Germany.

Joe struggled to find work in Germany after the war. Most of the jobs were being given to Germans. He was Polish and she was Ukrainian. They lived in the displaced persons camp.

Joe heard about a Christian Church offering a sponsorship to America. They believed that America was the land of the free. They had seen socialism and communism their entire lives and wanted no part of it. they wanted to be free!

"They wanted to be free!"

They were hopeful at the prospect of a new start in life- In America!. The thought of coming to America was a dream. He applied and they were granted a ticket to America. It was a Baptist Church in Van Nuys, California.

On the ship to America Joe worked as a cook and Lydia was a maid. When they arrived in California He went to work for Fisher Body, Chevrolet as a welder. Only as he would Say it... chevdddddoleT. Roll the Rs and end with a T.

Having nursing experience allowed Lydia to work at the San Fernando hospital. She mostly worked the swing shift but was happy to have the opportunity. It didn’t pay very well so she also worked as a housekeeper on her off hours, all while their raising 3 kids. Helena, Henry and Elizabeth.

Joe and Lydia spent many years in California and enjoyed the benefits of homeownership and had a couple of rental properties, but eventually sold everything and moved to Oregon.

Mike Gratland with grandparents
A visit to Oregon

Mike Gratland with Sister in Oregon
Mike Gratland with Sister in Oregon

My sister Kelly and I were given the gift of spending our entire summers in Hood River Oregon with them. No school. No friends. Just our Grandparents who barely spoke English.

Joe had lost his leg from that injury, in the war, that brought my grandparents togther. California was now too expensive and they were now living on disability income from Chevrolet and Grandma continued working at the local hospital.

Hood River is beautiful and reminds Joe of his home in Poland.

"They didn’t have much. But they were free."

Joe walked on crutches with his legless pant leg folded and pinned up. Funny looking. Or maybe it’s because HE was so funny.

Mike Gratland family images
Visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Oregon

Grandma’s home always smelled like something good was cooking. Vareniki, borscht, cabbage rolls, bread, potatoe donuts. Lots of onions and potatoes and stuff we had just picked from the garden. Kelly and I worked that garden all summer long. We each had our own tree there. Mine was a peach tree. And just as the summer air was starting to smell good, summer would be over and we would be sent back home on the train.

I heard my mom and aunt and uncle tell stories of how Joe wasn’t a very good dad. He had a short temper and got angry quickly. But he must have mellowed out over the years as there could not be a better grandpa in the world. He seemed to be getting a second chance at raising kids. Funny how that works.

He'd take me fishing at the Columbia river twice a week. I looked forward to those days like Christmas. We'd chop wood and watch wrestling on Friday nights if we could get the antenna just right. And church on Sunday. A Baptist church.

Mike Gratland childhood image fishing
Fishing on The Columbia River

I have been blessed and fortunate to have been able to raise my family in California, where my grand folks began their American journey.

My son Michael Joseph and daughter Lydia are named after them. Our son Shawn owns and restored Grandpa’s old truck. - A Chevrolet. (pictured below)

Gratland family photo
Gratland Family Photo

1969 pick up truck with camper shell
Grandpa Joes 1969 Chevy Pick Up

  • I learned a lot in those summers. A love for God and family and a love for being outdoors.

  • I have respect and empathy for those that are disabled and for immagrants with accents.

  • I learned how precious freedom is and have a love for America.

  • I love fishing and go any chance I get

  • And I love second chances

If you made it all the way to this end, thank you for your time and interest. Make it a great day!

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