top of page
  • Mike Gratland

What I learned in Oregon by Mike Gratland 2.20.20

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

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

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 night time 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.

He said from the moment you walk into that place it is made clear to you that you only get food in exchange for work. So he determined that he was going to work. He eventually worked his way out of there to become a shoe shiner at the German Air Force Base. When American and British planes dropped bombs on the base, Joe was injured. They transported him to the hospital.

Lydia was assigned to be Joe’s nurse. 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. They married 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.

This could be their second chance. 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.

Lydia mostly worked the swing shift at the hospital in San Fernando as a nurse. It didn’t pay well so she was a housekeeper on her off hours. She also had 3 kids. Helena, Henry and Elizabeth.

Joe and Lydia eventually moved to 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 and California was expensive. Living on disability income from Chevrolet and Grandma working at the 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.

Grandma’s home always smelled like something good was cooking. Vareniki, borscht, cabbage rolls. Onions and potatoes and stuff we had just picked from our garden. Kelly and I worked that garden all summer long. We each had our own tree there. Mine was peach. And just when the air was starting to smell good, summer would be over.

I heard Joe wasn’t a good dad. Got angry quickly. He must have mellowed a lot after losing his leg and moving to Oregon Because there could not be a better grandpa in the world. He seemed to be getting a second chance at raising kids.

We’d go 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.

My son Michael Joseph and daughter Lydia are named after them. Our son Shawn owns Grandpa’s old truck. A Chevrolet.

I learned a lot in those summers.

I have sympathy for disabled and people with accents.

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

I love fishing

And I love second chances