Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happy birthday, Grandma!

Loraine in pot
Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer

I’ve learned a lot about my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, over the past year but I have no idea why she’s posing in a wash basin for this photo!

Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer was born in Santa Cruz on January 20, 1896 in Santa Cruz, California.  And I have this to prove it!

Affidavit of Birth

A few years ago I requested her birth certificate from Santa Cruz County and the response was “no record found”.  So between that response and this document, I’m assuming she was born at home and my guess is that her mother, Birdie Schwartz, came home to her mother’s house to give birth.  Which would mean that Birdie and her daughter were born in the same house, the home of her parents, Louis and Rebecca (Steen) Schwartz which was built in about 1870.

Schwartz House
Louis Schwartz home
Santa Cruz, California

Louis Schwartz is standing on the grass in the front yard but I’m not sure who the kids in front are.  If you enlarge the photo you can see an adult and a baby peering out of the window on the left!

Loraine grew up in Monterey and I’ve written a lot about her over the last year as I’ve gone through her scrapbook.  I like to think about her being a young girl and what life was like for her over 100 years ago.  This letter gives me a glimpse into what she was like.

Loraine Letter Page 1 Loraine Letter Page 2

San Francisco
Monday, Oct 10, 1905
My dear papa
I am feeling alright to-day except I have a swollen glands but I am allright otherwise brother sends his love to you Papa I herd you shaved off your moustache I think you look funny are you busy in the store in Monterey I am lonesone. for you papa brother says his lonesone for you to we are having a good time here.
Mama is writing to to you.  We are both writing to you papa I am writing any-old thing.
I dont know any more things to tell you.
but I am going to close my letter.
but I have to say good-by.
Your loving daughter
Loraine & Wilton Gunzendorfer

What a sweet letter!  And even sweeter that her father, Abe Gunzendorfer, made a note at the end to “answer this letter”.

I was fortunate to have my grandmother in my life until my late 20’s and it seems like just yesterday that she was here with us.  How can 30 years have passed so quickly?  Here’s some things I remember about her:

She was always dressed very stylish, as evidenced in this picture.  

Loraine 2

I remember the last time I saw her she was sitting in her wheelchair at the nursing home dressed in a beautiful silk suit from Saks Fifth Avenue with bright red lipstick fresh on her lips.

Grandma had a lot of sayings that I still think about today.  When she wasn’t particularly impressed with something she’d say “I couldn’t give it much” and if something didn’t work out the way she liked she’d proclaim “that was bunk!”.

Grandma wasn’t the best driver, as I recall, and even as a young child it was a little unnerving to ride in the car with her.  She must have realized she wasn’t a great driver – as she approached an intersection she’d always beep her horn to let others know she was coming through.  Even today if I hear a little beep while a car goes through an intersection I think of Loraine and smile.

Loraine’s mind was sharp as a tack and she loved to hear my oldest daughter, and her only great-grandchild at the time, say her name.  The two of them would be together and she’d say to my 3 year old daughter “who am I?” and she would exclaim “Great Grandma Loraine”.  Grandma would beam and then after a few minutes she’d ask again “who am I?” and the answer would be repeated.  One day my daughter said to me “doesn’t she know her own name?”  Ah, Grandma, you were one of a kind.

Loraine 1969

Grandma loved to go out to dinner and she was only too happy to pay.  We still laugh at the memory of her telling us to order whatever we like and as we each placed our order she’d immediately look at the menu as she said “where’s that?” so she could check out the price.  And when we’d go to the Country Club with my parents, Dad had to sign for the bill and it would be added to his monthly total.  Of course Grandma wanted to pay so right there in the restaurant she’d get out her checkbook and write Dad a check to reimburse him for the total.  It must have made quite an impact on me because I even took a picture of the event.

Loraine writing check
Mildred Loraine (Gunzendorfer) Levy
Gordon Levy
approximately 1981

Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer Levy died on my oldest daughter’s 7th birthday, which was Mother’s Day that year, May 8, 1982, in Santa Clara County.  She joined her husband of nearly 50 years in Fresno, their home for their entire married life, at Chapel of the Light.


While I feel so fortunate to have so many of her belongings which helps me learn more about her, I sure wish she were here so we could share in this journey of her life together.

Happy 117th birthday, Grandma!


  1. Happy 117th birthday to your grandma! I know what you mean in regards to wanting to share in the discoveries with them vs. finding out things after they are gone. I learned so much more about my maternal grandmother after her death that I wish I would have had the chance to talk to her about things and ask questions when she was alive. Love the pictures, especially the baby picture.

    1. I sometimes wonder what my grandmother would think about me sharing her scrapbook and reading all of the letters she and my grandfather wrote to each other. I think in some small way that's why she held on to them for her entire life.

  2. What an adorable baby photo, Debi. These days moms take photos of their children in so many different situations but in 1896 I doubt it was common to take a photo of a baby in a washbowl. But then, maybe they'd just gotten a new Kodak Brownie camera and were eager to try it out. I enjoyed reading your memories of your grandmother. She sounds like an interesting person.

    1. My grandmother's father was a photographer so I have lots of photos of interesting things that have nothing to do with my family. So you could be right in that he was trying out a new camera with his little girl.

  3. My parents used to bathe me in an old enamel tub too. Loraine was a cute baby! These stories are so sweet, so cute, so revealing about your dear grandmother. As close as I was with my grandma, I can't recall anything nearly as specific and detailed as you have shared. Happy Birthday Loraine!

    1. I wish I could remember more about her - she defintely was an interesting woman. One day I'll go through the reels and reels of film my dad left behind and I'm sure many more memories will come forward.

  4. That has to be one of the cutest baby pictures I have ever seen! Your grandmother was an adorable baby and a very elegant woman. I enjoyed your post and the lovely memories.