My Grandmother, Imelda Miller Hansen

17 June 1885–21 May 1960

As far as I know, I was the only grandchild who stayed with my grandmother in Monroe for a few weeks in the summer. I don’t know why I was so fortunate, but I am grateful for the opportunity I had when I was 12 years old

Early in the morning we’d wake up and go out to pick the big, sweet raspberries. She would wear gloves to protect her fragile hands, and a big floppy hat.  I didn’t need either because I was a teen—nothing would hurt me. Grandmother’s raspberry patch was right on the edge of a big irrigation ditch which was always full of water rushing somewhere else. We always had to pick the raspberries before it got hot or . . . . I don’t know what would happen. Maybe we’d melt in the sun like the wicked witch of the west, or maybe we’d just sweat, and that wasn’t ladylike.

Grandmother Hansen as she looked at the time of my story.

After picking raspberries, we’d come in and eat breakfast.  Grandmother would serve breakfast on delicate china placed on a table decorated with a beautiful vase of roses.  Everything was elegant at Grandmother’s house, from the cream of wheat served with brown sugar in a china bowl to the raspberries served with thick cream from a special creamer. I felt like a princess at Grandmother’s house, instead of one of a rowdy crew like I did at home. Whenever I smell split pea soup, I see my grandmother’s kitchen and steaming soup in a delicate china bowl.

My grandmother loved genealogy, and sitting there in her flower-patterned wallpapered parlor, she told me stories of the people whose lives contributed to who I became. She read me histories of ancestors long dead, drew pedigrees going back generations. They became more than names on sheets of papers, but living people who dreamed, hoped, prayed and suffered. I cried as she talked about her great-grandfather who was injured in a tornado in Omaha Nebraska while they were crossing the plains.[i] She told me of her father who had injured his head in an accident and had terrible headaches until his son left for his mission to Germany before World War II. When the son was set apart by an apostle, the apostle promised him that his father would be healed and able to take care of the things while he was gone—and the same day the father’s headaches disappeared. [ii]

As my grandmother told me stories, I recall wondering if my one British ancestor had had pirates in their heritage (I now know how ridiculous that was, but then it sounded romantic).  I also dreamed that my Danish ancestors near Elsinore, the site of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Kronberg Castle, were possibly royalty. Years later my brother served a mission to Denmark and wrote me that if our ancestors were at the castle, it was only as servants— we had no blue blood in our family at all. My grandmother instilled me in a love for family history that has never left me. I love researching the pedigrees, finding out the information about each individual, preserving each record, and documenting each story.

Me at Grandmother Hansen’s house in Monroe–1950s.jpg

Another gift that my grandmother shared with me is sewing. She was more than a seamstress—she was a dressmaker and hat maker.   Early in the new century, her husband sold a horse to buy a foot-pedal Singer sewing machine for grandmother[iii] so she could sew for others—a sewing machine that I inherited. She made dresses and hats that were unique and beautiful, and much more than just frontier ware. There in Monroe, Utah during that hot, dusty summer, my grandmother took chartreuse fabric from a drawer, bought an intricate Vogue pattern, and taught me how to make a blouse on her latest model Bernina sewing machine. I had to baste each dart, mark each mark with tailor tacks. 

My mother did not like to sew; but from that day on, I was the seamstress in my family. I sewed for my younger siblings, my mother, myself. I took sewing classes in home economics in junior high and high school, and designed costumes, doll clothes and curtains. I wanted to someday be a dressmaker like my grandmother; I never attained her stature, but I have loved to sew, and I have tried to share my love of sewing with my daughters and granddaughters.

What as grandparents do we teach our grandchildren? I remember those three things my grandmother taught me that summer. But most of all, she taught me how much she loved me, and that was the greatest treasure of all.

Me at Grandma Hansen’s house 2005

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All biographies sited below are in my possession

[i] 1862: “From New York they went by train to Omaha where they were to wait for the emigrant wagons, the prairie schooners of the nineteenth century. While waiting in Omaha, the men sought employment as best they could in the fields or farms. One day while father was working in the fields, a black cloud appeared in the southwest sky. The American workmen began to run, and soon threw themselves upon the ground. Father and other immigrants followed their lead, wondering what the excitement was about. They soon found out. A tornado had struck, followed by the inevitable rain ending in a flood. Queer how nature sometimes slaps us in the face. The immigrants were allowed only 75 pounds of luggage—less than we take on a vacation today. My mother was airing her little wardrobe that was damp from the ocean voyage when this cruel wind struck and one of her best shoes was carried away along with small keepsakes from her girlhood and her home, among which some poems and eulogies written to her on her 19th birthday that her friends had celebrated in her honor and tintype photographs of relatives and friends. To mother’s last days she was saddened when she recalled her loss.

      “Although my parents had planned to be married in Salt Lake City in the Endowment House, they were married in Omaha. Father contracted a fever and became so ill that he could not leave with the friends with whom he had crossed the ocean and whose leader he had been. Instead they came to Utah in J. R. Murdock’s Company, leaving Omaha June, 1862.” Biography of Hans Peter Hansen Miller Sr. by Eudora Miller. (Hans Peter, grandfather of Imelda Miller Hansen, although Danish spoke English fluently even before he came to America and was leader of the group before they left Denmark.)

[ii] “In 1928, at the age of 63, Hans was thrown from the back of a truck and fractured his skull in three places, with every bone out of place.  The x-ray also showed that the awl had moved nearer the top of his head, and the injuries impaired his voice, causing him to lose it for weeks at a time.  He also had a problem that although he could walk around, he could not look up or to the side without turning his whole body without becoming dizzy and losing his balance.  This went on until Jan. 1933 when his son, LaRue, was leaving for a mission to Germany.  Hans was         so ill with the flu and a cough, in addition to his other problems that family and friends felt that LaRue would not reach Salt Lake before Hans died.

      “About a week after LaRue had left for his mission, Hans suddenly recovered miraculously from his cough, and he was well enough to go out to help with the evening chores.  In addition his neck seemed so limber that he had his wife check it and every bone was in place, and it was as smooth as it had ever been.   He completely recovered from the dizziness and loss of voice that he’d suffered from since the accident and was healthier than he’d been in years.

       “A few days later he received a letter from LaRue which said:  “As we elders were being set apart for our missions, and it came my turn, Elder George Albert Smith placed his hands on my head and said, ‘Young man, you are worrying about something at home.  Don’t worry any more everything at home is all right.’  This blessing was given at the very same time that his father, Hans was healed of his injuries and flu.” Biography of Hans Peter Miller, Jr., father of Imelda Christina Miller Hansen.

[iii] “We thought we were pretty well off when we married, and were happy, very happy. We had bought Aunt Martha and Uncle George Crosby=s furniture from them because they were moving to Arizona. Bill had rented a farm for us, and had a very nice team of horses, a new wagon and two racehorses. And we had $50.00 in cash to start on. It didn’t last long, however, as only two months later I took sick and was in bed for seven weeks. Bill sold one of the race horses to pay the doctor bills and buy me a sewing machine (1905).” Autobiography of Imelda Christina Miller Hansen.

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